Recycling of materials is needed to reduce the logistical constraints and enhance the capabilities of deep space missions. Recycling of polymers has been shown successfully in zero gravity but there are no current techniques available for metal recycling. Current terrestrial methods for metal recycling are difficult to adopt to intravehicular (IVA) and extravehicular (EVA) environments.
Microtech Energy proposes to use microwave plasma technology to design and develop a metal recycling process for zero gravity environment. The proposed recycling process would be able to separate multiple aerospace grade metals/alloys (aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, etc.) by melting in both IVA and EVA environments. The plasma, acting as an efficient microwave absorber, provides rapid heating of the target as well as high temperature capability. This recycling process is also expected to be clean.
The proposed metal recycling system can be used on International Space Station, Lunar Base Camp, Exploration Crew Module and other deep space missions and can supply feedstock to in-space manufacturing projects.
The metal recycling system using microwave plasma will compete with some of the current terrestrial metal separating techniques. The new system will be better than these separation methods because it would combine separation and melting in one process resulting in a more efficient process. Moreover, use of low cost magnetrons will allow an inexpensive metal recycling system to be developed.