- Washington-based aerospace technology company Tethers Unlimited, Inc. has won a contract to bring recycling to the International Space Station (ISS), as reported by The Herald. The funding comes from NASA's Small Business Innovation Research program.
- The company's Positrusion Recycler will sterilize and recycle plastic waste such as packaging materials, utensils, trays and food storage containers into 3D printer filament. The printer, known as the Refabricator, will then use that material to create satellite components, replacement parts and astronaut tools.
- Tethers Unlimited has been testing the technology in their laboratory and will be sending it to the ISS in early 2017.
It costs around $10,000 per pound of material sent into space, so sterilization will help reduce waste because astronauts currently use disposable wet wipes to clean utensils and containers. This generates additional waste that needs to be stored and can potentially expose them to harmful microbes.
Another bonus is that the Refabricator can operate with little oversight from astronauts and also provides them the option to make certain parts on-demand, which will reduce the amount of weight being shipped up to the ISS. This system would be invaluable on longer trips to Mars or elsewhere and could have potential applications on Earth as well.
Recent technological innovations may also help solve another waste management challenge in space: junk satellites. This summer the European Space Agency debuted a net gun prototype that is being tested as one option for a 2023 mission that aims to capture a defunct satellite and burn it up in the atmosphere.