Fact: it’s only a matter of time before we’re all living on Mars. NASA and other space agencies around the world have been cooking up plans to reach the Red Planet for years, and a good deal of the technology needed for an exploratory mission is already ready already. New rocket boosters and spacecraft engines are being tested, and there are astronauts training for the year-plus trek through the vastness of space as we speak.

There is one obstacle that’s proving difficult to overcome—launching stuff into space is difficult and expensive. A manned trip to Mars is going to require a lot of stuff. It’s already been established that the first group of space travelers to reach the planet are most likely never going to return to Earth, and Amazon Prime doesn’t deliver to Mars, so the explorers will have to bring everything they need with them when they go.

A Washington-based company called Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (or TUI) may have solved this challenge, at least partially.
“What’s the Status of the Positrusion Recycler, Scotty?”

While it certainly sounds like something that could be found on the starship Enterprise, TUI’s positrusion recycler is, in fact, specially engineered for use on the International Space Station. The device can be used to recycle plastic waste and repurpose it via 3-D printing. According to the Tethers Unlimited team, the postitrusion recycler is as easy to use as a microwave, but since we’re talking about a group of folks with smarts enough to build an outer space plastic recycling device, they may have slightly unrealistic views on ease of use.

The company is working to develop commercial versions of the device, but after a demonstration last year, NASA was sufficiently impressed with the positrusion recycler to award TUI a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to continue working on the spacebound version. The latest and greatest version, dubbed the Refabricator by Tethers Unlimited, will undergo extensive testing in low- to zero-gravity aboard ISS, and will hopefully be fully ready for use on NASA eventual missions to Mars.

“Due to the incredibly high cost of launching mass to Mars, carrying every tool or replacement part that [astronauts] might need simply isn’t affordable,” said Jesse Cushing, the Refabrictor project’s Principal Investigator. “ The Refabricator will demonstrate the ability to recycle plastic parts and waste to make new parts and tools on-demand. This capability will enable [them] to use material that would otherwise be waste to maintain their spacecraft and adapt to unforeseen challenges on [Mars].”