In 2011, Made in Space, Inc. was awarded a test flight aboard NASA's zero-gravity training jet — aka "The Vomit Comet" — for the purpose of testing how existing 3D printers would function in the weightlessness of space.
Since commercial 3D printers are designed to function on earth where gravity affects all aspects of their performance, Dunn (left) and his team had to retrofit the machines to operate in in zero gravity, where even temperatures are affected.
"We had to find clever ways to keep the hot parts of the printer hot and the cold parts cold," Dunn explains. "There are about two-dozen technologies that we’ve filed patents for that are all very specific to make a printer work not just in zero gravity, but in the extreme environment of the space station."
Of the 12 commercial machines tested, none performed up to expectations. "With all the problems we ran into, it turned out that we had to design a printer from ground up," Dunn says. "Now we’re looking at where we can bring this technology back to the ground to benefit other industries."
"Weightlessness is absolutely, hands-down the most enjoyable experience of my life," Dunn says. "You’re body adapts almost instantly. It feels as if we were supposed to be in that environment all along."