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3-D printer plus recycler installed in orbit

Installation of Refabricator
NASA astronaut Anne McClain installs Tethers Unlimited’s Refabricator recycling and 3-D printing payload aboard the International Space Station. (NASA Photo via Tethers Unlimited)

NASA astronauts on the International Space Station have installed the first integrated 3-D printer and plastic recycler to go into orbit, and it’s currently being checked out for experiments that are due to start in the next few weeks.

The Refabricator, a device about the size of a dorm-room refrigerator, was built at Tethers Unlimited’s headquarters in Bothell, Wash., under the terms of a $2.5 million contract from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program. It was tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and sent up to the station on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply flight in November.

Tethers Unlimited engineers supported the space station operations team while NASA astronaut (and Spokane native) Anne McClain installed the Refabricator into the space station’s experiment racks.

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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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