I am reading Medium.com's 3D Printing Is Going to Space and Made In Space is doing something very cool.

However, the point of failure in a system like this seems to be the polymer strut itself - how long would a centimeter-wide polymer strut maintain structural integrity in orbit?

EDIT: Or will material fatigue from changes in temperature break the strut first?

But now, outer space manufacturing is about to become a reality, albeit at a much smaller scale than the Death Star. The real-life Florida startup Made in Space recently won a $73.7 million contract from NASA to use, over the next three years, what’s essentially an advanced space-grade 3D printer to print out wings for a spacecraft while it orbits Earth.

Both of those links are informative.


Now Made in Space plans to take the success of that very same technology and run a variation of it outside of the space station—in the even more inhospitable vacuum of space, on the side of the free-flying Archinaut One spacecraft. After decoupling from the Rocket Lab rocket, the Archinaut One will enter low-earth orbit (LEO to space industry folks, defined by NASA as the first 100 to 200 miles of space above Earth’s surface) and begin circling our home planet more than 11 times per day. A few days later, the Archinaut One will conduct the historic, first-ever free-flying additive manufacturing demonstration in space, using a spool of polymer filament to print two 32-foot-long (64 feet total) semirigid beams extending from either side of the spacecraft.

The beams will be much larger than those the Archinaut One could otherwise support if it were relying on traditional space assembly methods, such as bringing them folded up into space from Earth, and will be used to act as a kind of scaffolding for long solar arrays that extend outward. “Like Venetian blinds,” according to Kugler.

  • $\begingroup$ The orbit count per day suggests an orbit closer to 1700 km. A 400 km orbit will get you about 15-16 orbits per day. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jan 16, 2020 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


Absent specific details about the printing filament, it's impossible to say anything in particular about this application.

Some general points of knowledge though:

The primary sources of polymer degradation in orbit are UV radiation, atomic oxygen (AO) erosion, outgassing, and thermal degradation. These all present challenges regarding material selection, but these challenges are not insurmountable.

In general, most consumer-accessible, inexpensive plastics don't do well in these environments. There are a decent number, however, that do get used outdoors with decent frequency -- Delrin (polyoxymethylene) and PEEK (polyether ether ketone) come to mind, but these are expensive.

To the extent that a material selected for longevity does not have the desired structural properties, there are filaments out there that have embedded carbon or glass fiber to provide stiffening as well.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Black cable binders are more resistant to UV in outdoor use than colorless for indoor use. Absorbing UV by the black additive seems to protect the polymer. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jan 16, 2020 at 18:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Uwe I do know that the PEEK wheels on the Roller Suspension Unit (part of the Mobile Transporter on ISS) are blue for the same reason. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jan 17, 2020 at 15:51

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