Relativity is chafing the first launch of Terran 1 again

WASHINGTON — Relativity Space aborted a launch of its Terran-1 rocket March 11 after two last-minute aborts due to technical problems.

A first launch attempt during a three-hour window was aborted at 14:42 east at T-0.5 seconds. The rocket’s nine Aeon-1 engines had already fired when abort was called.

Relativity said in its launch webcast that the abort was triggered by a violation of launch commit criteria, but was not more specific. it later tweeted that a “corner fall in the stage separation automation” a few seconds before the scheduled start caused the abort.

The Company took off at 4:00 p.m. EST at the end of the launch window at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 16 for a second launch attempt. That countdown ended at around T-45 seconds, scrubbing the start for the day. The company later said the crash was caused by low fuel pressure in the upper stage.

The March 11 peel came after fuel temperature problems delayed an initial launch attempt on March 8. The company said during the March 11 webcast that a faulty bottom valve, which has since been fixed, caused the problem during the earlier launch attempt. The company has not reported any problems with the propellant temperature in the last attempt.

Relativity hasn’t announced a new launch date for the mission, which it calls “Good Luck, Have Fun.” The company said it waited three days between launch attempts to condition the liquid natural gas it uses to fuel the rocket. That’s mostly methane, but also contains some butane, ethane and propane, according to Arwa Tizani Kelly, Relativity’s test and launch technical program manager, during the webcast.

Methane evaporates faster than the other compounds. “If we unloaded and reloaded the same propellants after a scrub, our methane composition would be wrong,” she said. “Instead, we bring in fresh fuel and the fuel then takes some time to settle down to the right mix before we attempt another launch.”

This is the first mission for Terran 1, a rocket Relativity manufactured primarily using 3D printing technologies. The mission carries no payload and is primarily a technology demonstration of the vehicle, including testing whether these additive manufacturing techniques are suitable for a launch vehicle.

Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Relativity, tweeted ahead of the first launch attempt that he hopes the launch will survive at least maximum dynamic pressure, or Max-Q, about 80 seconds after launch when the vehicle’s stresses are at their peak. “But the most important twist in my mind is to surpass Max-Q,” he wrote. “We have already proven on the ground what we want to prove in flight – that 3D printed structures can withstand these forces when the dynamic pressures and loads on the vehicle are at their highest. This will essentially prove the feasibility of using additive manufacturing technology to create flying products.”

Terran 1 is also testing technologies for its larger, reusable Terran R rocket. The company has launch contracts worth $1.65 billion from several customers, including OneWeb, for this vehicle, which could launch as early as 2024.

The Terran 1 launch was one of two scheduled launches on March 11, neither of which happened. Rocket Lab delayed the launch of its Electron rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia earlier in the day, citing strong upper-level winds. The company has not announced a new date for the “Stronger Together” mission using two Capella Space radar satellites. The company has airspace restrictions for daily launch until March 17th.

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