Global – The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced it will start a special plastics recycling programme on the International Space Station next year. A machine called the Refabricator is at the centre of this new project, which will allow astronauts to melt down any plastic component and print a new one using the same material.
NASA says its 2018 project is the first one to combine recycling and 3D printing into one single device. The Refabricator is roughly the size of a mini refrigerator. It will process one type of plastic, namely Ultum, which is known to be very durable.
This innovative machine is said to save a lot of money in the long run; it costs about US$ 10 000 to launch one pound of material into space. Also, sending new resources to the Moon would take weeks – worse yet, sending them to Mars takes several months.
NASA points out that it is vital that the recycling unit melts the plastics rather than pulverises them considering the lack of gravity in space means that any powder-type material poses a health risk for astronauts.