Relativity Space launched its 3D-printed rocket, but failed to reach orbit

Relativity Space has finally launched its 3D-printed rocket after multiple scrubbed attempts, but the results are decidedly mixed. The startup’s Terran 1 vehicle successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral late Wednesday, but it failed to reach orbit after the second stage engine ignited only momentarily. It’s not clear what led to the failure, but Relativity is promising updates in the “coming days.”

The company still characterizes the mission as an accomplishment. Terran 1 endured Max-Q (maximum dynamic pressure), the moment expected to place the most stress on the 3D-printed design. The rocket wasn’t carrying a customer payload. Instead, it carried the first metal produced from Relativity’s 3D printing system.

As CNNexplains, the two previous launch attempts were plagued with problems. Relatively had trouble cooling propellant in time for the first liftoff, while the second was hampered by both a wayward boat and a software flaw that prompted an automatic engine cutoff shortly after ignition.

Relativity is using the expendable Terran 1 to demonstrate the viability of its 3D printing technique ahead of the reusable Terran R rocket’s planned 2024 launch. The manufacturing process theoretically provides simpler, more reliable rockets that are cheaper to make and can be ready within weeks. That, in turn, could lower the costs of delivering satellites and experiments into orbit.

While this launch represents progress, there’s mounting pressure to complete testing. Relativity already has contracts that include launching OneWeb satellites and Impulse Space’s commercial Mars mission. There’s also the simple matter of competition: rivals like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab aren’t standing still, and any setbacks limit Relativity’s chances to win business.

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NASA’s AIM spacecraft goes silent after a 15-year run studying the Earth’s oldest clouds

After 15 years in space, NASA’s AIM mission is ending. In a brief blog post spotted by Gizmodo, the agency said Thursday it was ending operational support for the spacecraft due to a battery power failure. NASA first noticed issues with AIM’s battery in 2019, but the probe was still sending a “significant amount of data” back to Earth. Following another recent decline in battery power, NASA says AIM has become unresponsive. The AIM team will monitor the spacecraft for another two weeks in case it reboots, but judging from the tone of NASA’s post, the agency isn’t holding its breath.

NASA launched the AIM – Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere – mission in 2007 to study noctilucent or night-shining clouds, which are sometimes known as fossilized clouds due to the fact they can last hundreds of years in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. From its vantage point 370 miles above the planet’s surface, the spacecraft proved invaluable to scientists, with data collected by AIM appearing in 379 peer-reviewed papers, including a recent 2018 study that found methane emissions from human-driven climate change are causing night-shining clouds to form more frequently. Pretty good for a mission NASA initially expected to operate for only two years. AIM’s demise follows that of another long-serving NASA spacecraft. At the start of the year, the agency deorbited the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite following a nearly four-decade run collecting ozone and atmospheric measurements.

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This insertable 3D printer will repair tissue damage from the inside

Researchers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, have developed a flexible 3D bioprinter that can layer organic material directly onto organs or tissue. Unlike other bioprinting approaches, this system would only be minimally invasive, perhaps…

UK Space Agency funds Rolls-Royce’s bid to put a nuclear reactor on the moon

There’s a global race happening to put humans back on the moon, with the United States, Japan and China among the countries working to get astronauts there as soon as possible. However, infrastructure is needed for astronauts to have a place to live and work.

To that end, today, the UK Space Agency announced funding for Rolls-Royce to build a nuclear reactor that would support a future moon base. The current £2.9 billion (~$3.52 billion) given by the UK Space Agency follows £249,000 (~$302,000) provided last year for Rolls-Royce’s initial study. 

Engineers and scientists at Rolls-Royce are working to build a nuclear micro-reactor due to its small size and ability to function regardless of sunlight available or location. Currently, Rolls-Royce estimates the micro-reactor will go to the moon in 2029.

The funding announcement comes only two days after NASA and AXIOM Space released the new prototype spacesuit Artemis III astronauts will wear on the moon. Currently, NASA aims for the Artemis III mission to launch in December 2025. NASA also plans to build a base camp on the moon’s surface. 

In the next decade we will likely see greater progress in all areas surrounding travel to the moon. Last month, the UK Space Agency announced £51 million (~$61.89 million) available for UK companies to build communication and navigation systems to use in future moon missions. The initiative comes as part of the goal of the European Space Agency’s Moonlight program to have satellites around the moon aiding future astronauts and rovers with communication and safety. 

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