The world’s largest metal 3D printers operate out of a huge factory in Long Beach, printing Relativity Space’s reusable Terran R rocket, the company announced this week.
The Long Beach-based space company has unveiled its 4th generation Stargate printer, which defies conventional 3D printing methods by moving horizontally rather than vertically as it feeds multiple wires into a single print head.
Relativity broke its own record with this latest generation, as the company has long been home to the largest 3D printers in the world.
“Iteration enables innovation not only in our rocket designs, but also in our own Stargate printers,” Scott Van Vliet, senior vice president of software engineering at Relativity, said in a statement. “In its short history, Relativity has made great strides in evolving its core 3D printing technology, but the 4th Generation Stargate printers are our most innovative advance yet.”
First-, second-, and third-generation Stargate printers are already operating at speeds above the industry standard, the company said. The new model, however, prints up to seven to 12 times faster.
In addition to increased speed, the new printer can also make objects 55 times larger than the third generation model. Thanks to its horizontal orientation, the 4th generation Stargate printers are capable of printing objects up to 120 feet long and 24 feet wide, according to the announcement.
“Stargate printers are designed to unlock rapid iteration, which opens up opportunities for innovation in large-scale manufacturing products,” co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis said in a statement. “What would take traditional aerospace and space manufacturers years to develop and build, will be reduced to months through a highly adaptable, scalable and automated process, made possible through software-driven manufacturing. .”
By fully 3D printing its rockets, Relativity Space produces rockets with 100 times fewer parts faster than building traditional rockets.
Relativity is developing custom software and machine learning techniques that will allow new printers to produce more complex and even larger metal products at faster speeds with more reliability, reducing costs, the company said.
The new printer will support the development and production rate of the company’s Terran R rocket, its first fully reusable spacecraft that will be capable of launching 20,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The company has already secured $1.2 billion across five customer contracts for the Terran R, including a multiple launch deal with OneWeb and a commercial mission to Mars with Impulse Space.
The majority of Terran R components will be printed at Relativity’s new 1 million square foot headquarters in the former Boeing C-17 manufacturing facility, which has been dubbed The Wormhole. Aeon R engines will continue to be produced at the company’s other Long Beach plant, The Portal, on Redondo Avenue.
The company said it plans to have more than a dozen 4th-generation Stargate printers at The Wormhole, each capable of making four Terran R rockets a year at full capacity. The site is currently 33% operational.
In the long term, Relativity said the new printer offers “value creation potential” for other products in the aerospace, aviation, energy and defense industries over 1 trillion dollars.
“The cumulative rate of progress is high and we’re still in the early days of what printing can accomplish,” Ellis said. “We view 3D printing as an automation technology that has the power to change the pace of innovation in manufacturing, which is why we invested in building our own proprietary technology stack from day one. “