Capitalism in space: The smallsate rocket company Relativity has successfully completed, ahead of schedule, the testing of its Aeon-1 rocket engine, and is now moving to completing design and construction of its Terran-1 rocket, tentatively scheduled for its first test flight in 2021.
The successful tests augur well for the ongoing development of the Terran 1 rocket, which represents a challenge as this rocket will now be larger than originally anticipated. In 2019, due to customer requests, Relativity resized its rocket to nearly double the available volume for payloads. It expanded the diameter of the fairing at the top of the rocket to 3 meters and height to 7 meters. While this is smaller than the fairing used in big rockets like the Falcon 9, in the class of “small satellite” launch vehicles it is quite large.
Relativity’s move to a larger fairing necessitated a more powerful engine with a gas generator cycle. The original Aeon engine had a thrust of 17,000 pounds at sea level, and the new version boosts the power considerably to 23,000 pounds. And now the company has been able to validate this larger, more powerful engine design.
The Terran 1 rocket, with a lift capacity of 1.25 tons to low Earth orbit, is powered by a first stage with nine Aeon engines. Success with the engine testing gives the company confidence that it can hit its target of launching the first Terran 1 rocket in 2021, said Zach Dunn, vice president of factory development. The next step is integrated stage testing, which will happen next year, followed by a launch from Space Launch Complex-16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Right now it appears to me that in the race by American companies to join Rocket Lab in providing launch services for smaller satellites, Virgin Orbit and Astra are in the lead, having completed their first test flights, with Firefly and Relativity close behind.
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