Made In Space has announced that it will be launching the first commercially developed plastic recycling facility to the International Space Station (ISS) in collaboration with Braskem. The system, called the Braskem Recycler, will enable astronauts aboard the ISS to transform plastic waste and 3D printed parts that are no longer needed into new feedstock for the Additive Manufacturing Facilities (AMFs) that are currently in use on the space station.
The Braskem Recycler is designed to process all kinds of plastic waste and parts, reducing them to small pieces and then melting them and extruding them into filament. The system even has the capability of spooling the recycled filament and requires very little manual intervention. ISS crew members simply have to load plastic waste into the recycling facility and then install the new spools in the Made In Space 3D printers.
The recycling facility will be launched into space as early as November 2nd from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility aboard Northrup Grumman’s 12th commercial resupply mission (NG-12). With the addition of the recycler aboard the ISS, astronauts will benefit from a near closed-loop manufacturing system which can print parts, recycle them, and reuse material for new parts. Importantly, the recycler will enable the ISS to become more self-sufficient, lessening the dependence on filament being supplied from Earth.
“Local manufacturing resources are a crucial capability for space exploration,” said Michael Snyder, Chief Engineer at Made In Space. “Demonstrating and validating recycling capabilities on the ISS is an important step towards developing sustainable manufacturing systems that will enable us to venture deeper into the solar system.”
The Recycler was developed by Made In Space—which pioneered the first in-space 3D printer—in collaboration with Braskem, a leading producer of biopolymers and the biggest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas. As part of the collaboration, the Recycler will demonstrate its capabilities with a Brasken-developed polyethylene, I’m green Biobased PE, which is made from renewable sugar cane. In 2016, Made In Space and Brasken 3D printed the filament in orbit.
“We believe that innovation helps improve people’s lives, whether here on Earth or in space,” said Fernando Musa, CEO of Braskem. “On Earth, we are committed to a joint effort, involving our customers, value chain partners and society at least, to find more sustainable solutions through the use of plastic. One of them is the I’m green Bio-based polyethylene, the world’s first polyethylene made from a 100% renewable source, which contributed to the reduction of CO2 emissions, a greenhouse gas impacting global climate change. In space, by supporting Made In Space, we have the opportunity to contribute to reducing missions costs and optimizing the transported weight.”
As Musa points out, when the Recycler is installed aboard the ISS, the need to ship filaments from Earth into space will be reduced, meaning that cargo loads will be lighter. When shipping supplies to space, every pound counts, so keeping the cost of a mission down is directly influenced by the weight of the cargo.