The ability to manufacture parts on-demand in space will be a critical capability for future deep space and long-duration missions, and the Redwire team is making strides in advancing this capability.
Recently, our Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) onboard the International Space Station (ISS) successfully manufactured a subunit insert of StemRads’s AstroRad radiation vest using Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) plastics.
The print is part of a joint project with StemRad Ltd., a leader in the provision of personal radiation protection solutions. The project, which was awarded funding from Space Florida and the Israel Innovation Authority, is focused on conducting on-orbit additive manufacturing of personal radiation shielding from polyethylene waste to develop StemRad’s AstroRad radiation vest.
“We are proud to be partnering with StemRad on this important project,” said Redwire Executive Vice President of In Space Manufacturing and Operations John Vellinger. “The ability to use AMF and other Redwire devices, such as our Recycler payload, to sustainably produce radiation protection technology in space is a game-changing capability that could help sustain humanity’s expansion beyond LEO.”
The project advances Redwire and StemRad’s previous work to develop polyethylene printing in microgravity for radiation protection. The team is working to redesign the geometric structure of the internal shielding of the AstroRad vest for efficient on-orbit printing. The resulting Hybrid AstroRad Vest will incorporate printed parts from 100% recycled polyethylene. This focus on repurposing readily available polyethylene on platforms in low-Earth orbit enables cost savings and mission flexibility.
Radiation exposure is a major hazard for astronauts and could seriously impact their performance and health on or following missions beyond low-Earth orbit. However, any shielding provided comes at the cost of limited and expensive launch mass. Redwire and StemRad are solving this problem by recycling polyethylene from packaging waste into filament for on-orbit additive manufacturing inserts for the AstroRad radiation vests, providing lower launch mass and costs.
AMF operates out of an EXPRESS rack onboard ISS and utilized specially designed hardware, including a custom 3D printer extruder and print bed, to print the LDPE material to the required quality and tolerances in a microgravity environment. LDPE plastics are traditionally a difficult material to print in any setting, so accomplishing this feat in microgravity on board the ISS is a crucial step towards a closed recycling ecosystem for deep space and long-duration missions.
Together, Redwire and StemRad are working to ensure that protection from the effects of increased radiation exposure will be available to astronauts during future space missions.