Does anyone outside of the space world ever wonder about how those engineering marvels popped up in space? Behind the scenes of the launch and functioning of a spacecraft lies a world of, not magic, but supply chain management. A rookie in this vast field, I veered away from the usual discussion topics of SCM and took a peek into a fairly unknown realm.
Interplanetary Supply Chain
I found the phrase ‘Interplanetary Supply Chain’ circulating the web. Yes, this term popped up in my google search on the website of MIT Space Logistics Report (http://strategic.mit.edu/spacelogistics/commercial.php).
At first glance, it seems that the key points of an efficient supply chain network in terms of transportation, location considerations and information technology is also crucial in the logistics of interplanetary pursuits.
But the interesting conclusion of the MIT article is that aspects of commercial supply chains are not being adequately applied to the interplanetary discourse. Interplanetary supply chains have unique features (such as the massive importance of fuel, the property of supply of food and water to lose mass and volume during transportation) that cry out for an innovative approach to their SCM.
The article expands on the strategies of Push/Pull supply chains which deals with managing inventory to reduce cost and increase efficiency. Here’s an excerpt of this applicability in space programmes:
The existing space logistics operations rely solely on the push concept, i.e., the supply is pushed downstream into the space. Due to the excessive transport time to Mars, the push strategy seems to be the optimal choice for Mars exploration. On the other hand, transport times are much shorter for Moon exploration and therefore the push/pull strategy combined with risk pooling could be beneficial for such missions. Consider, for example, spare parts for spacecrafts. From the risk pooling perspective, it could be advantageous to maintain a repository of selected spare parts at the Low Earth Orbit. These parts can then be pulled from Earth and pushed into the Lagrangian points or Lunar orbits. While the transport time from Earth to the Low Earth Orbit is very short, it is extremely costly and therefore such a strategy needs to be carefully studied.
The requirements of the International Space Station (ISS) in carrying cargo and transferring other interplanetary material between space stations has led NASA and other space agencies to encourage the the development of a sound supply chain logistics to aid in ‘sustainable space exploration’. Yet another career dimension to the transforming field of SCM.
Useful Reference Articles:
SpaceX Dragon carrying cargo: http://www.worldtradewt100.com/articles/88560-spacex-dragon-spacecraft-to-return-to-earth