Jason Dunn - Made In Space
For more recent information on Made In Space and the first 3D printer ever sent to the International Space Station, see: their website.
Originally published on the first SSI website in 2012:
On October 25th, the Student Spaceflight Initiative was proud to welcome to Stanford Jason Dunn, CTO and Co-founder of Made in Space (MIS), to speak about student space entrepreneurship and his vision for manufacturing in space starting with 3D printing technology.
Jason began by describing how Gerard O’Neil questioned whether a planetary surface was the right place for an expanding technological civilization and postulated in his book, The High Frontier, that in fact orbiting space colonies were better options. Jason explained how O’Neil showed that initial colonies might be created with Space Shuttle technology in the 1980s and yet points out that despite the potential for such a project, we still lack a network of such colonies. Jason argued that the reason for this lack is that the physics of Earth’s gravity well makes it simply too expensive to reach orbit. Therefore, in Jason’s mind, what is required before such colonies and other advanced space systems exist is a paradigm shift to where “Everything in space is 'Made in Space.'”
From this point, Jason co-founded Made in Space with the vision that 3D printing technology was the key to beginning in-space manufacturing. With a 3D printer in space, almost any shape could be printed on demand and at a very low cost. By combining the advantages of additive over subtractive manufacturing, the possibilities of manufacturing directly in microgravity, and the freedom of not having to withstand the extreme loads of launch, 3D printing in space would allow a vastly greater range of geometries and structures. Cost for these parts can be minimized since the rocket capacity can be completely utilized by raw stock material, minimizing launch costs. Moreover, Jason emphasizes, the parts can be created on demand without a new launch, simplifying mission planning since every single tool does not have to be foreseen and allowing decreased reliability and lifetime of certain parts since replacements can be made.
To prove the potential for this technology, Made in Space tested their technology on hundreds of 20-second parabolic flights under a contract with NASA and showed that 3D printers can be modified to operate perfectly in microgravity. Additionally, MIS used the Apollo 13 story as a demonstration, designing and printing a solution for fitting the circular carbon dioxide scrubber into the square hole in less than a business day, compared to the many, many hours it took the NASA engineers to jerry rig a solution and teach it to the extremely tired and stressed astronauts when the event actually occurred. Jason stresses three aspects of the approach at MIS that he feels are essential for any aspiring young space start-up. First is their business model, which is to iterate quickly, fail early and often, and do it all with very little money. Second is that they are capitalizing on a technology with clear Earth applications, which provide a clear revenue stream when they need to start making real capital. Third is that they have immersed themselves in the growing commercial space community, where everyone needs everyone else to succeed, allowing them to get advice and support on all fronts. These three attributes have allowed MIS to be highly successful and given them the ability for their next great step, flying a 3D printer on the International Space Station in 2014-2015 under a paid contract with NASA and we wish them all the best on this next amazing project.