Made In Space (MIS), the California-based company has partnered with Braskem, the Brazil-based petrochemical company, to develop a plastic recycling plant dedicated to 3D printed components to send to the International Space Station (ISS). The facility, christened Braskem Recycler, will be launched to the ISS, mounted on Northrop Grumman’s 12th commercial resupply mission (NG-12) in the first week of November. The Braskem Recycler aims to increase the sustainability of the manufacturing capacities of the station. It has been designed to turn plastic waste, and 3D printed parts into feedstock for the additive manufacturing systems that are currently on-board the ISS.
This could potentially create a near-closed loop manufacturing system, reducing the dependence on feedstock resupply missions for space exploration. Michael Snyder, Chief Engineer, MIS, says that local manufacturing resources are a crucial capability for space exploration. MIS is working to deliver next-generation manufacturing in orbit to facilitate exploration goals and national security priorities. Its objective is to industrialize the space environment by developing manufacturing facilities and materials that can be used in the environment beyond Earth. The main focus of the company’s technology portfolio space is on additive manufacturing and was also the first company to position a 3D printer on the ISS, named Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF). MIS’ AMF has now manufactured over 200 tools, parts, and assets in orbit.
When the Braskem Recycler reaches the ISS, it will be capable of manufacturing recycled feedstock that is compatible with the AMF. Plastic waste and other materials could be loaded into the facility, which would get reduced into smaller pieces. These pieces are then heated, spooled, and extruded, resulting in the formation of feedstock. The process, for the most part, is automated, except for the stage where the material needs to be loaded. The Recycler is set to demonstrate its capabilities with a particular polyethylene (PE), formulated by Braskem, known as “I’m green” Biobased PE.