US space agency NASA is funding a project that will investigate the possibility of recycling and remanufacturing in space.
The company has selected Californian company Made In Space to receive a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) Phase 1 award for two projects each worth $125,000.
Made in Space will develop its R3DO scheme as one of these projects, which it describes as a plastic recycling system for creating 3D printer feedstock in-orbit.
The idea is that used parts made of ABS plastic will be recycled and remanufactured using 3D printers on board vessels such as the International Space Station (ISS) or potentially on future deep space missions.
On the R3DO scheme, the proposal summary said: “An automated in-space recycling system for 3D printer feedstock will provide game-changing resupply benefits including but not limited to launch mass reduction, mission reliability increases, and decreased reliance on resupply from Earth.
“To bring these benefits to ISS in the near term, Made in Space proposes the further development of its unique recycling system, called R3DO, for transforming ABS plastic parts on ISS into 3D printer filament feedstock.”
The other project will see Made in Space working with the University of Florida, Orlando to look at fabricating electronics containing both metals and plastics on board vessels.
Part of the intention behind the scheme is that the projects should have further application on Earth. As a result, Made in Space is discussing whether its technology could be used by the US Navy onto its operations and logistics.
It is expected that the technology will also advance the current capabilities of the 3D printing industry and could lead to improvements in areas such as in-situ manufacturing, improvements to resource extraction while also reducing waste storage requirements.
Made in Space has already worked with NASA on developing 3D printing technology to work in zero gravity environments.