This enormous object is a Stargate fourth-generation 3D printer. Its maker, aerospace company Relativity Space, claims that it’s the biggest metal 3D printer in the world, which impresses us; what impresses us more is that it’s currently in use manufacturing Relativity’s Terran R and Terran 1 rockets, which are both almost entirely 3D-printed (including 3D-printed engines). If you were to 3D-print a rocket at home, you’d quickly run up against the height of your ceiling; to get around this, Relativity has oriented the Stargate printer so that it prints horizontally, giving it the ability to print objects up to 120 feet long and 24 feet wide.
We’re used to the advantages of 3D printing in plastic, and it turns out that many of those advantages apply to printing rockets. You can iterate more quickly than with injection moulding, and use the same piece of equipment to build different parts, so you don’t need a room full of kit to make several complex pieces. Relativity calls this effect the ‘software-defined factory’, and claims that it enables the company to build a rocket in two months, rather than the two years that it takes the rest of the industry.