New Zealand is set to play a part in the future of spacecraft building, by helping Nasa to 3D-print parts in space.

The US space agency will launch experimental spacecraft Archinaut One from Rocket Lab's Mahia Peninsula base.

Once in orbit, Archinaut will 3D-print two 10-metre-long beams out from either side of its body, which will then unfurl two massive solar panels.

The panels can generate up to five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.


If successful, the technology could help astronauts avoid risky spacewalks by having the printers construct parts for them.

It would also allow large spacecraft to be launched in smaller bundles, a boon for Rocket Lab which specialises in launching micro satellites.

"In-space robotic manufacturing and assembly are unquestionable game-changers," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of Nasa's Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Archinaut One is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2022.