Most studies of ISRU focus on propellants, life support supplies, concrete, or other "bulk" materials (liquids, gases, granules). This makes sense, given that the majority of a typical rocket is propellant by mass.

There have also been studies of space mining and manufacturing for purposes such as colonization, mass mining or the building of megastructures, but these tend to be highly speculative and focus on immense space infrastructure.

But some manufactured goods seem potentially worth producing from ISRU materials: Tankage (to use for rockets, and to ship ISRU propellants in) and pipe (to pipe resources overland on planets).

Are there any compact, "near-term" (this probably means "no more than a few heavy lift launches") studies on this kind of ISRU for manufactured goods?


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Outside of "bulk" goods, there is very little focus on ISRU "manufacturing" as it's still a bit too early--right now it's far cheaper to send manufactured goods like tankage or extrusions to space rather than the heavy industry required to manufacture these goods. Furthermore, there is little that would need to be manufactured in such quantities as to make ISRU "worth it" today.

Still, in the early 2000's there was a bit of interest in off-planet (specifically Lunar) solar panel production and then beaming the power down to Earth. As far as I can tell, implementation was never actually seriously considered, but people did write some papers. Specifically, a somewhat detailed plan was created which aimed to kick off "exponential growth" of power plants on the Moon (although this one focuses less on the technical and more on the 'vision'):

bootstraping timeline

Later, in 2006, another paper was written which examines the actual process one would need to build some of the components involved in manufacturing solar panels on the Moon through ISRU, including even some lab experiments. Here is a diagram from that paper which describes a possible process flow:

workflow diagram

While not strictly ISRU, there are also several private companies working on or offering services for "orbital assembly". Typically, this involves automatically building or welding together some large truss-structures in space. For Example, the "Archinaut" can assemble an extremely long truss to hold solar panels on orbit and NASA's "Trusselator" project aims to do similar:



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