NASA and Made In Space to Transmogrify 3D Printed Objects Through Experimental Recycling Experiment

Recycling three types of filament for reuse is being tested in orbit on the ISS

The International Space Station is arguably the greatest feat of engineering in human history. It represents an agreement between engineers, scientists and astronauts that space exploration is a unifying source of awe and wonder. Anyone lucky enough to have an internet connection can live stream the ISS at any time to glimpse the Earth from our orbit and see what the international crew of astronauts are doing. Every 90 minutes, the ISS orbits the Earth, meaning that it experiences a sunset or sunrise approximately every 45 minutes. Sometimes you can see different weather phenomena below during these dark periods when the signal is more or less kaput. 

(Image courtesy of Made In Space.)

(The MIS Recycler will provide the basis of understanding whether ISS astronauts can reuse filament material from a printed object to create other objects without losing structural integrity of the material. (Image courtesy of Made in Space.)

The ISS is a unique research facility and the only place to study and understand the effects of microgravity on human beings. The international team set a record this past May where the six crew members aboard conducted 100 hours of research. Experimentation for NASA’s Artemis program where the first woman and the next man will walk on the moon by 2024 occurs regularly on the ISS. Orbital payloads with technology and research gear dock at the ISS for the crew to perform these and other types of experiments. The NG-12 Cygnus spacecraft (from Northrop Grumman) is slated for launch in a week and NASA scientists and researchers recently explained what is in store for the six crew members. 

Among other experiments, the ISS crew will test out radiation protection gear for astronauts and test the Made in Space Recycler (MIS Recycler). The MIS Recycler is supposed to break down plastic from objects printed by the company’s microgravity printer into reusable filament to ostensibly 3D print new objects in the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF). The AMF from Made in Space has been operational aboard the ISS since 2016 and prints in ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), Green PE (polyethylene) and PEI/PC (polyether imide/polycarbonate plastics).

After the test period is complete, the ISS-printed samples will be sent back to Earth. Those will be examined against comparable samples printed on the surface of the Earth. After the experimentation is complete, the AMF facility on the ISS may become radically more efficient by utilizing the MIS Recycler to essentially transmogrify 3D printed objects from one form to another. This could eliminate the need for sending filament in future payloads and reduce the amount of space taken up by printing more objects rather than transforming one object into another through recycling.