Supporting NASA's Human Exploration Destination Systems Technology Area and LaRC, this project's technologies directly address requirements for reducing launch mass by reclaiming launched structural components into recyclable manufacturing feedstock and providing polymeric technology for utilizing in-situ resources as composite AM raw materials. Recyclable composite materials would find potential in transport, colonization, habitat, and exploration systems. Future NASA space exploration and colonization missions will be planned to maximize available resources to enable mission success. Recyclable composites could play a significant role as an in-situ resource for those missions. This project's technologies offer the ability to manufacture components and structures on-site as needed through reclaiming structural composites that are no longer needed, allowing for reconfiguration of those same composites to new geometries, production of AM feedstock from the desized composites, and/or application of the reclaimable composite polymer matrix as a binder resin for larger volumes of environmental sourced particulate materials. This serves to reduce overall launch cost, and provides deep space exploration with additional tools to fabricate components and structures at mission destinations.
This project's technologies, developed for NASA systems, would directly apply to systems operated by other government and commercial enterprises. Potential customers would be oriented toward emerging composite recycling markets and enhanced additive manufacturing feedstocks. Example systems include rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing of complex, low-run number, and advanced design parts for systems operated by the Department of Defense. Prime defense contractors could find use of an enabling technology allowing 3-D printing of new and exotic polymeric materials or polymeric composites previously thought incompatible to additive manufacturing processes, including thermosetting systems. This technology's attributes for improving the compatibility of polymers to AM systems would yield a high potential for private sector commercialization for AM and 3D printer manufactures, increasing the materials properties available in the feedstock. Companies could dramatically expand the properties of raw materials available to consumers, create new product lines based on thermosetting material designs, and potentially be able to produce materials with custom thermal-mechanical performance on-demand. The technology also enables businesses to additively manufacture components and systems previously impossible due to material limitations, and allows processes for the recycling and repair of composite materials previously incompatible to reuse after fabrication to first form.