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NASA orders a 3-D printer/recycler for space

Image: Refabricator
TUI/Firmamentum’s Positrusion device turns 3-D-printed items into plastic filament. The recycler would be paired with a 3-D printer in Firmamentum’s Refabricator. (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

Firmamentum, a division of Tethers Unlimited Inc. in Bothell, Wash., says it has won $750,000 in NASA funding to build a combination 3-D printer and plastic recycler for the International Space Station.

The device, known as the Refabricator, is due to be delivered to NASA next year, said Rob Hoyt, president of TUI/Firmamentum.

“This is an experiment to see how many times you can recycle plastic in the microgravity environment before the polymers break down,” Hoyt told GeekWire today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle.

Firmamentum’s plastic-recycling process, known as Positrusion, was the focus of earlier experiments funded by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR. Hoyt said the most recent award was made last Friday, with backing from SBIR as well as the In-Space Manufacturing project at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Another company, California-based Made In Space, already has built a couple of 3-D printers that went into use on the space station. The 3-D printers melt down plastic filament and deposit tiny squirts of the stuff in a computer-controlled pattern to produce tools and other objects.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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