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Advanced Printer Reuses 3D Parts on Space Station

A system capable of reusing materials for 3D manufacturing is being evaluated for space-based use aboard the International Space Station.

Transported onboard a Cygus spacecraft from Northrop Grumman to the International Space Station (ISS) in November, the Refabricator is a different type of 3D printer that can turn waste plastic and previously printed 3D parts into 3D printer filament or 3D printing ink for reuse. Well-suited for resource-limited applications such as within the ISS, the Refabricator 3D printer provides the means to reuse materials many times to create new tools and components. The system (see figure) is designed and manufactured by Tethers Unlimited Inc. (TUI) of Seattle, Wash.

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The Refabricator is a unique 3D printer that can form new parts and components while working with used parts and reused materials. (Courtesy of NASA)

The Refabricator was used as part of a recent demonstration to evaluate the quality of parts manufactured with reused materials. It was produced for NASA as part of a Small Business Innovation Research contract to TUI and completed final flight certification testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Refabricator was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. NASA feels the remanufacturing technology could prove invaluable for future deep-space exploration, including missions to the Moon and Mars.

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