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Recycling Robots in Space: Plastics Recycling/3D Printing to Cut Waste Aboard ISS

PositrusionWaste reduction and recycling efforts can save companies money and produce environmental benefits on earth — do these benefits extend to space?

NASA, with help from aerospace technology company Tethers Unlimited, aims to find out. The Washington-based company has won a contract to test its recycling/3D printing system aboard the International Space Station, the Herald reports.

Tethers Unlimited’s Positrusion Recycler (pictured) will be used to recycle plastic waste such as packaging materials, utensils and food storage containers into 3D filament. This material will then be used to make satellite components, replacement parts and astronaut tools via a 3D printer called the Refabricator.

This closed-loop system will save NASA money — it costs about $10,000 for every pound of weight launched into orbit — and reduce “intergalactic waste.”

“Currently, astronauts use disposable wet wipes to clean their utensils and food containers after use,” mechanical engineer Kristen Turner told the Herald. “These wet wipes then become trash that must be stowed, and they have to be resupplied on cargo launches. The logistics of supplying and disposing of those cleaners for a two-year manned Mars mission would be a real challenge.”

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