NASA has announced that its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) to develop a "Positrusion" recycling system to create 3D printing filament on board the International Space Station (ISS).
The Phase II contract will see the development of a patent-pending Positrusion recycler that will convert plastic waste into high-quality 3D printer material for use in making tools, replacement parts, and satellite components for the ISS and deep-space manned missions.
"Positrusion is a new approach to making 3D printer feedstock that produces filament with much more consistent diameter and density than traditional extrusion processes," said Jesse Cushing, TUI's Principal Investigator for the Positrusion effort. "That consistency will improve the quality of tools and other parts produced by 3D printers on the station."
The first 3D printer to go on board the ISS.
TUI also sees significant potential for use of the Positrusion system in recycling plastic waste in the consumer market. Jeffrey Slostad, TUI's Chief Engineer, explained: "For a recycler to be useful on the ISS, it has to meet stringent safety requirements, and its design needs to minimize the amount of time an astronaut must spend operating it. So we designed the Positrusion recycler to be as safe and simple to operate as a microwave oven, and we believe a consumer version of this machine will be ideal for recycling household and office waste."
Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI's CEO and Chief Scientist, added: "We are very excited to continue working with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to enable sustainable in-space manufacturing. Our long-term goal is to create the capability to construct the habitats, spacecraft, and other infrastructure necessary for exploration and settlement of the solar system using raw material launched from Earth as well as resources available in the space environment. We are developing a robust ecosystem of additive manufacturing technologies to make this possible, including 3D-printed “Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding” (VSRS), Structural Multi-Layer Insulation (S-MLI), and our Trusselator and SpiderFab technologies for fabricating key satellite components such as antennas and solar arrays."