Oct 19, 2017 | By Benedict

Orbital launch company Relativity Space plans to use “Stargate,” which it says is the largest metal 3D printer in the world, to fabricate rockets on Mars. The 3D printer uses multiple print heads to process strong proprietary alloys.

Founded in 2015, Los Angeles-based Relativity Space is shooting for the stars. Or Mars, for that matter.

After receiving $10 million in funding from various high-profile backers, the ambitious orbital launch company is developing a giant metal 3D printer called “Stargate,” which the company says is the largest metal 3D printer in the world—and perhaps the galaxy.

This monstrous 3D printer consists of multiple Kuka robotic arms mounted with lasers, and uses metal wire feedstock as a 3D printing material. As you can imagine, it’s a very complex machine.

“Stargate is constantly getting smarter and faster by using sensors and intelligent learning,” Relativity Space says. “We are creating an entirely new type of evolvable production line.”

Relativity Space says Stargate is the largest metal 3D printer in the galaxy

And perhaps a "production line" is a more appropriate way to think of the Stargate than just a 3D printer. After all, most printers don’t utilize giant robotic arms.

But then again, most 3D printers aren’t made to fabricate rockets, which is exactly what Stargate has been tasked to do.

According to Relativity Space, the Stargate 3D printer can turn raw materials (proprietary metal alloys) into a viable rocket in less than 60 days. These materials are made at an in-house metallurgy and material characterization lab.

Relativity Space has test fired the Aeon 1 engine more than 70 times

The huge 3D printer also features intelligent process and quality controls, including cloud-based simulations, advanced imaging and detection sensors, and more.

In terms of printing hardware, the Stargate printer utilizes multiple print heads for a faster build rate, while in-situ machining allows parts to be made with highly complex geometries. The printer also has a “flexible” and “scalable” system architecture.

All of this enables the giant 3D printer to make an entirely 3D printed rocket. That rocket is dubbed the Terran 1, and reduces vehicle part count from nearly 100,000 to under 1,000 components.

The Terran 1 rocket could be 3D printed on Mars

The Terran 1 is propelled by oxygen and methane, and uses 10 Relativity Space Aeon 1 engines (nine for first-stage propulsion; one for second-stage propulsion), which offer 19,500 lbf of thrust. Relativity Space says it has carried out over 70 test fires of the Aeon 1.

Perhaps the most exciting area of Relativity Space’s grand strategy is where it intends to carry out its ultra-fast 3D printing of rockets. If the company can someday take the Stargate 3D printer to Mars, the printer will be capable of fabricating multiple Terran 1 rockets there.

“In the early days of settlement, there will be few people living on Mars,” the company explains. “Intelligent automation and lightweight, compact 3D printing are fundamental technologies needed to quickly build a new society with scarce resources—and the most scalable means to get back home.”

The Los Angeles company has the experience to back up its bold ambitions. CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis worked as a 3D printing specialist at Blue Origin for two years, while CTO and co-founder Jordan Noone worked at SpaceX.

Blue Origin, headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is using 3D printed parts in its BE-4 rocket engine, while SpaceX has also carried out important additive manufacturing work.

Find out more about Relativity Space, its giant Stargate 3D printer, and its mission to take rocket-building to Mars here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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