California startup Made in Space is launching a special machine to the International Space Station that turns plastic waste and trash into feedstock for the company’s Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3D printer already on board the station.
According to the company’s website, the recycling machine is meant to “facilitate the reusability of materials to solve new problems as they arise whether on the International Space Station or in future manned space exploration missions.” It could also help “reduce the cost and weight of payloads carried from Earth.”
The machine is scheduled to launch into orbit on November 2 aboard Northrop Grunman’s Cygnus spacecraft, Space.com reports.
3D printing in space
Made in Space’s 3D printer aboard the ISS was activated back in 2016 and has been used since to 3D print hundreds of tools and parts, according to the company.
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“Local manufacturing resources are a crucial capability for space exploration,” Made In Space chief engineer Michael Snyder said in a statement. “Demonstrating and validating recycling capabilities on the ISS is an important step towards developing sustainable manufacturing systems that will enable us to venture deeper into the solar system.”
Earlier this year, NASA awarded the company $73.7 million to launch a combination spacecraft and 3D printer that’s capable of printing its own robotic arms. The spacecraft will attempt to print 32-foot beams that will eventually be used to hold solar arrays to both sides of itself.