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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World View pivots to balloon-borne ‘Stratollites’

Image: World View balloon
World View is working on balloon-and-parafoil systems that could carry payloads into the stratosphere, as shown in this artist’s conception. (Credit: World View Enterprises)

World View Enterprises made a splash with its plans to send tourists up to the stratosphere, but now it has a more down-to-earth focus: using balloons to send up satellite-style payloads for months-long missions.

The tours are still part of the Arizona-based company’s business plan, CEO Jane Poynter said today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle. The time frame for testing a full-size mockup of the Voyager crew capsule has been pushed back, however.

In January, Poynter said the flight test would take place in mid-2016. Today, she said that test would be conducted early next year instead.

In the meantime, World View is ramping up its “Stratollite” system i(“Stratosphere” plus “Satellite”). The program involves attaching payloads to a high-altitude balloon, lofting them up beyond 100,000 feet in altitude, and letting them float above the clouds to relay signals, capture imagery, gather weather data or perform other functions that are typically done by satellites or large unmanned aerial vehicles.

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NASA veteran plans commercial space station

Image: Space station
Artwork shows a potential commercial space station. (Credit: Axiom Space via YouTube)

Former space station manager Mike Suffredini says he’s working on a plan to send up a commercial space module that could be attached to the International Space Station – and then disattached to become the foundation for a private-sector outpost in orbit.

“We intend to work on a low-Earth-orbit platform to follow the International Space Station,” Suffredini said today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle.

Representatives of the new venture, called Axiom Space, are in contact with NASA about the idea, but Suffredini stressed that he’s staying at arm’s length to comply with the space agency’s conflict-of-interest requirements.

Suffredini left NASA last September and is now Axiom’s president as well as the president ofStinger Ghaffarian Technologies‘ commercial space division. Axiom is currently structured as an SGT subsidiary, with SGT co-founder Kam Ghaffarian serving as Axiom’s CEO, Suffredini said.

Axiom already has seed funding, Suffredini said. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the venture would raise additional money from investors to finance the construction of the module and get it launched to the station in the 2020-2021 time frame.

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Dream Chaser gets set for its next reality check

Image: Dream Chaser
Technicians at an SNC facility in Colorado inspect the Dream Chaser engineering test article, or ETA, which is due to be put through atmospheric flight tests. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

After years of postponements, Sierra Nevada Corp. is planning to deliver a rebuilt test prototype of its Dream Chaser mini-space shuttle to NASA for testing in the August time frame, a company executive said today.

Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for SNC Space Systems, also said the company has just satisfied the first milestone in its contract with NASA to develop the Dream Chaser as a cargo transport for the International Space Station.

Sirangelo provided an update on the Dream Chaser at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle.

In January, NASA gave the nod to SNC as well as to SpaceX and Orbital ATK to service the station during the second phase of its Cargo Resupply Services program, also known as CRS-2. Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Orbital’s Cygnus craft, SNC’s Dream Chaser has yet to fly.

SNC Space Systems’ facility in Louisville, Colo., is the development center for the winged craft, which looks like a scaled-down space shuttle. The project is just one line of business for Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corp., which is a significant defense contractor and a key player in Turkey’s TRjet aircraft development project.

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Planetary Resources goes international

Image: Arkyd telescope
An artist’s view shows one of Planetary Resources’ telescopes in orbit. (Credit: Planetary Resources)

Planetary Resources says it will start ramping up an international asteroid-mining subsidiary in Luxembourg by the end of the year – and will think about expanding operations to other locales as well.

The Luxembourg deal was announced last week, but many of the details are still to be determined, said Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president and CEO.

To refresh your memory from geography class, Luxembourg is a tiny nation wedged between Belgium, Germany and France. It’s more than 5,000 miles away from Planetary Resources’ headquarters in Redmond, Wash. So, why Luxembourg?

“We are looking at things that amplify our presence in Seattle,” Lewicki told GeekWire today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference. By the end of the year, Planetary Resources plans to work out the details and make a “handful of hires,” he said.

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Space university will beam into Seattle

Image: Shuttle trainer
The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at Seattle’s Museum of Flight houses a full-fuselage shuttle trainer that was once used to train astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (Credit: Museum of Flight)

For almost 30 years, the International Space University has prepared fans of the final frontier for executive jobs at places like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. This October, for the first time, ISU is bringing its weeklong Executive Space Course to Seattle.

The course is designed to give professionals in fields such as marketing, law and business management a quick grounding in the realities of the space business, touching upon science and technology as well as regulation and policy. It’s a condensed version of the graduate-level programs that ISU offers at its main campus in Strasbourg, France.

The Seattle program is due to run from Oct. 3 to 7 at the Museum of Flight, during World Space Week. The course will be taught by ISU faculty and guest lecturers, with an assist from Seattle-area universities and aerospace businesses.

Today’s announcement was timed to coincide with the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle this week.

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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos wins Heinlein Prize

Image: Jeff Bezos
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is the founder of Blue Origin. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, has won the prestigious Heinlein Prize for his efforts to advance space commercialization at another company he founded, Blue Origin.

Bezos follows in the footsteps of SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis, who played a lead role in creating the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. Diamandis was the first award-winner in 2006, and Musk was honored in 2011.

The prize serves as a tribute to the late science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, who championed private enterprise beyond Earth in such stories as “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” and “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” The Heinlein Prize Trust is funded by the estate of Robert and Virginia Heinlein.

This year’s award was announced today in conjunction with the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle, and comes only a few days after Blue Origin put its reusable New Shepard spaceship through its fourth suborbital test flight to outer space and back. Blue Origin is also making progress on its BE-4 rocket engine, which is due to be used on future orbital launch vehicles.

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NewSpace puts Seattle at center of the universe

Seattle and stars
“The sky’s the limit” for space ventures, according to the head of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace. This composite photo sets Seattle’s Space Needle against a field of stars. For more of photographer Mikul Eriksson’s work, visit or click on the image.

There’s a neighborhood in Seattle that jokingly calls itself “the center of the universe,” but this week the title is no joke – at least when it comes to the entrepreneurial side of the space industry. The Space Frontier Foundation’sNewSpace 2016 conference is making it so.

The annual conference has been traditionally been held in California’s Silicon Valley. But from now on, the Space Frontier Foundation plans to bring the show to Seattle every other year. “If you guys mess it up, well, we’ll never come back,” Jeff Feige, the foundation’s chairman, told a group of Seattle space enthusiasts during a recent preview of the meeting.

John Thornquist, the director of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, says no one will mess it up.

“Because of our burgeoning space community here, it makes sense to have it up here – and we look forward to having it in the years to come,” he told GeekWire. “I think it’s appropriate to recognize the state of Washington as a space hub on the West Coast because of the commercial work that we’re doing.”

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