The Surprising Genius of 3D Printed Rockets

The Surprising Genius of 3D Printed Rockets

3D printed rockets save on up front tooling, enable rapid iteration, decrease part count, and facilitate radically new designs. For your chance to win 2 seats on one of the first Virgin Galactic flights to Space and support a great cause, go to

Thanks to Tim Ellis and everyone at Relativity Space for the tour!

Special thanks to Scott Manley for the interview and advising on aerospace engineering.
Check out his channel:

Benson, T. (2021). Rocket Parts. NASA. —

Boen, B. (2009). Winter Wonder: Rocket Icicles. NASA. —

Hall, N. (2021). Rocket Thrust Equation. NASA. —

Benson, T. (2021). Rocket Thrust. NASA. —

Regenerative Cooling —

How A Gold Bullet Almost Destroyed A Space Shuttle by Scott Manley —

Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Mike Tung, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Ismail Öncü Usta, Paul Peijzel, Crated Comments, Anna, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Oleksii Leonov, Jim Osmun, Tyson McDowell, Ludovic Robillard, Jim buckmaster, fanime96, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Alfred Wallace, Arjun Chakroborty, Joar Wandborg, Clayton Greenwell, Pindex, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

Written by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang
Animation by Mike Radjabov
Filmed by Derek Muller, Raquel Nuno, Trenton Oliver, and Emily Zhang
Edited by Trenton Oliver
SFX by Shaun Clifford
Additional video supplied by Getty Images & Pond5
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

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48 Responses

  1. Atomic Frontier says:

    Whenever I try 3D printing rockets they end up smashed into pieces in the Aussie outback. Guess the secret ingredient was GIANT LASERS! Thanks for the video Derek!

  2. Moonbo says:

    The StarCraft referencing was the icing on the cake…

  3. Nardi Nardi says:

    he meant 5%-10% of the normal weight of the aluminium tank, not 5%-10% of the weight of the whole rocket lol. That 10% increase in the frame weight is really small compared to the whole weight of the rocked where most of the mass is fuel

    • Arlet Ottens says:

      @James Wang First stage doesn’t reach orbit, so adding 1 ton of mass to first stage does not reduce payload by 1 ton.

    • Vladimir K says:

      I’m late, who won? Who is correct?

    • 컹ग्रैچوலேшаνσ says:

      @Vladimir K The original commenter pointed out that the 5-10% weight increase only applied to the dry mass, so the actual mass of the rocket fully fueled goes up by a much smaller percentage. This is factually correct, but the replies pointed out that even though that percentage increase in total mass may be small, it is still significant because it causes a major percent decrease in payload capacity (payload capacity is very small in comparison to the total rocket mass, so a quantity of mass that is a small percent of total rocket mass is a much larger percent of payload capacity).

    • Jackoryy says:

      @tyler hartley I like your funny words magic man

    • freedomcaller says:

      I don’t get why they don’t sand it smooth 😅

  4. Helix says:

    The StarCraft nerdery was DELIGHTFUL.

  5. Harley Valentine says:

    Love the founder vision and how passionate and optimistic he is about the whole process. Best of luck for his company!

    • Russia doggo • Россия собака says:

      U wanna play Russian roulette?

    • eadragon1108 says:

      Look at his hands though. Homie is so nervous to be on camera.

    • CarbonRevo91 says:

      @eadragon1108 definitely an odd duck. If he didn’t have a rocket factory behind him in these shots, I’d think he was blowing smoke about half of it. And maybe he is. Some of the things he said and tried explaining just didn’t come across right.

    • Codeplayer says:

      Exactly, the nervousness and some vague stuff he said, exactly like a young Elon. He will be successful. To achieve the unimaginable, you have to believe in yourself even if you have to, but don’t know all the answers to questions relevant to reach your goal.

  6. Fakjbf says:

    At a minimum, a company that can rapidly prototype large, complex, and precision parts is never going to run short of potential clients. As Scott said once you get to the point of mass producing parts the benefits of 3D printing get eaten away by dedicated tooling. But if they focus on the flexibility of 3D printing, they can pivot to fill a niche in basically any manufacturing industry.

    • Posthumanist says:

      Well said! Plus even if you have dedicated factories for mass production you will still need the 3D printing for prototyping improvements.

    • FlyingJetpack1 says:

      They can pratically be the company that would handle almost all the prototyping of rockets in the industry. It would be unfeasable for any other company to start this kind of 3D printing factory for their testing from the ground up just for their own needs, especially when there’s a company that exists, and is willing to create your machiened pieces with years of experience in the field.

    • Christophe Jamoye says:

      also note that, just like this shell type fuel tank structure he’s shown, really weird shaped metal parts are almost impossible automate with normal tools, so even during mass production, some parts will need to be 3d printed.

  7. WillN2Go1 says:

    I like what Scott Manley said about their developing 3D metal printing capabilities as a solid contribution and business even if they don’t make it as a rocket company. I usually just groan when some glassy eyed kid starts talking about 3D printing – because they never talk about material properties or metallurgy. These guys do. That is very very cool.

    • Neo Neo says:

      100% fake comment.

    • TuscanSun A&W Rootbeer Float says:

      @Neo Neo ?

    • Christophe Jamoye says:

      IMHO they definitely should partner with spacex (not merge), SpaceX will have better rockets in the short term (more advanced on reusability), but the direction they are taking here is better for building the Mars base and the long term scaling up of Earth Mars transit.

    • Vantor says:

      @Christophe Jamoye So they would lose the 3D printing knowledge to SpaceX and noone will further invest in them? I don’t know.

  8. dustin penner says:

    here we are in the future. Love a Scott Manley cameo!

    • Bicalho says:

      @G B I thought he had a degree in physics and astronomy… and played a lot of KSP.

    • G B says:

      @Bicalho According to Wikipedia he has a BSc in astronomy and a MSc in computational phyisics which is fair enough, but he only worked as a software guy… and played a lot of KSP 😀 😀

    • Most interesting man in the hood says:

      Here we are in the future.. still pretending outer space exists and isn’t water above the dome firmament.

    • Sebastian Soto says:

      It’s insane we are literally living in the future jetpacks and 3D printed rockets are now a reality

    • Nhat Minh says:

      ♫ Here we are in the future
      Here we are in the future and it’s bright
      Nothing to fear
      No one to fight
      I can’t believe we’ve come so far
      Happily ever after here we are ♫

  9. Paul Brooks says:

    The greatest thing that they may contribute is changing how we think about and use 3D printing. The technology to make things so easily and quickly is more impressive than the rocket itself, given wider implications.

  10. fasfan says:

    Every now and then Derek brings something to YouTube that just blows my mind. This is one of those times. There’s so many little things here that just blows my mind. For example… I never would have considered what was stronger… traditional builds or 3D printed metal parts. Or that they have software that helps print a warped product so that it “warps” to straight. This is fascinating stuff.

    • David Lloyd-Jones says:

      Fasfan, One of the best comments here, imho: ‘Course that’s only because you agree with me… 😎.
      Seriously, I think you understood the video in a way that maybe 80++% of the people here didn’t.

    • drcatjk says:

      Yea, it felt like a joke and idiotic thing to do when I saw the thumbnail. But I seem to have had a bad reference point with the consumer products. High quality: materials, machines, knowledge and ingenuity really makes a ton of difference

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