The International Space Station's first 3D printer with its own recycling machine is en route to the orbital laboratory aboard a Northrop Grumman spacecraft.
The Cygnus spacecraft launched early Saturday morning aboard an Antares rocket, carrying 7,400 pounds of supplies to aid dozens of investigations and research projects conducted on the space station, NASA said in a news release.
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The load includes the space station's first all-in-one 3D printer and recycler, known as the "Refabricator," NASA said. It will be able to take plastic materials and old 3D-printed parts on the space station and recycle them into new 3D-printer "ink" that will allow astronauts to make new tools in space.
The technology will also "greatly reduce the need to continually launch large supplies of new material and parts for repairs and maintenance," NASA said. That, in turn, should reduce the cost of the resupplying the space station.
The first 3D-printed object manufactured in space was made in 2014, NASA said.
The spacecraft launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and is expected to reach the ISS and dock at about 5:20 a.m. on Monday, NASA said.
The Cygnus craft was named the SS John Young, after NASA's longest-serving astronaut, according to Northrop Grumman. Young was the commander of NASA's first shuttle mission and has been recognized as a pioneer in human spaceflight. He died in January.
This is the 10th cargo resupply mission for Northrop Grumman, a major national security contractor for the US, the company said.