Tethers Unlimited Inc. revealed that it delivered the combo of 3D printer and plastic recycler to NASA to conduct tests on the International Space Station or ISS.
Recently while talking to GeekWire, Tethers Unlimited CEO Rob Hoyt revealed that the Refabricator Payload which is nearly the size of mini-refrigerator was built under the terms of a $2.5 million Phase 3 contract from SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research program), NASA. Currently, the refabricator payload is on its way to Kennedy space center in Florida and is soon to be sent to the International space station through a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight this year, Hoyt revealed through an email.
The company also announced today in a news release that this delivery to NASA marks the culmination of three months of certification testing and performance at Tethers Unlimited’s lab in Bothell, and at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Hyot also revealed that it took long hours of work and dedication by his team to overcome all the obstacles in creating this advanced automated manufacturing and recycling system for use in space. He also mentioned about the guidance of In-Space Manufacturing Program by NASA and how beneficial it was to get through the certification process.
“We can’t wait to get this up on the ISS and start demonstrating capabilities for sustainable manufacturing in space,” he added. This refabricator works on a process called "Positrusion” for the recycling of plastic parts and to turn them into new filament for 3-D printing. This process makes plastic filament consistent in its composition, which in turn, provides 3-D-printed parts.
The techniques for plastics recycling and 3-D printer filament manufacturing involve extrusion steps and grinding, which are some of the reasons that pose safety concerns for using them on ISS. To make them run reliably, it is essential to make a lot of adjustments, Hoyt said.
The refrabricator will mainly be used to take the print of “dogbone” samples that will be beneficial in studying the changes that occur in the plastic materials regarding elasticity, strength and so on, as it goes through the multiple recycling processes.
Other than this, Tethers Unlimited is also said to be working on another significant NASA-funded project called FabLab. The objective of this program is to develop a highly advanced in-space fabrication facility. It will also be able to manufacture and recycle 3-D printed items.