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Tethers Unlimited to recycle ISS plastic waste into 3D printer filament
by Staff Writers
Bothell WA (SPX) Apr 22, 2015

File image.

NASA has announced that its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) for award of a Phase II contract to develop a "Positrusion" recycling system for the International Space Station (ISS) and future deep-space manned missions. The Positrusion recycler will convert plastic waste into high-quality 3D printer filament for use in making tools, replacement parts, and satellite components onboard the ISS.

TUI's patent-pending Positrusion system uses novel techniques to process plastic into very high-quality filament for 3D printers. "Positrusion is a new approach to making 3D printer feedstock that produces filament with much more consistent diameter and density than traditional extrusion processes," said Jesse Cushing, TUI's Principal Investigator for the Positrusion effort.

"That consistency will improve the quality of tools and other parts produced by 3D printers on the station."

TUI also sees significant potential for use of the Positrusion system in recycling plastic waste in the consumer market.

"For a recycler to be useful on the ISS, it has to meet stringent safety requirements, and its design needs to minimize the amount of time an astronaut must spend operating it," said Jeffrey Slostad, TUI's Chief Engineer.

"So we designed the Positrusion recycler to be as safe and simple to operate as a microwave oven, and we believe a consumer version of this machine will be ideal for recycling household and office waste."

"We are very excited to continue working with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to enable sustainable in-space manufacturing," said Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI's CEO and Chief Scientist.

"Our long-term goal is to create the capability to construct the habitats, spacecraft, and other infrastructure necessary for exploration and settlement of the solar system using raw material launched from Earth as well as resources available in the space environment. We are developing a robust ecosystem of additive manufacturing technologies to make this possible, including 3D-printed "Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding" (VSRS), Structural Multi-Layer Insulation (S-MLI), and our Trusselator and SpiderFab technologies for fabricating key satellite components such as antennas and solar arrays.

"The Positrusion technology is an important part of this ecosystem, providing a way to process materials that would otherwise be thrown away into valuable feedstock for our in-space additive manufacturing systems."

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