Space: The final logistics and supply chain management frontier

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Recent advancements in the space launch market may indicate an increased need for logistics and supply chain management in outer space operations. Humankind’s ongoing curiosity about space has countries competing to prove they have not only the technology, but also the resources and collective knowledge to go beyond our imagination.

Accessing what’s beyond our globe has become an accepted source of socio-political promotion. It’s an indication of a society that can use advanced supply chain technology to achieve the best, and to find and harvest the undiscovered.

The space industry was born from military-related needs during and after World War II, and evolved into a commercially beneficial industry for governments and accredited companies all around the world. Today’s government-based space agencies collaborate to advance the science, technology and services needed to support their programs. In parallel, privately held and publicly traded companies like SpaceX, Arianespace, Orbital Sciences and Sierra Nevada Corporation boost the number of manufacturing options for space-related programs while contributing to the innovation of space and rocket technology.

SpaceX recently launched the revolutionary Falcon Heavy rocket, an internally funded program that’s the most powerful operational rocket in history. The achievement proves to the world that components can be successfully re-used to launch and lift relatively bigger supplies into outer space, underscoring the importance of streamlining multi-purpose inbound and outbound delivery operations in the near future. Improvements and innovations like Falcon Heavy are also a clear indication that logistics and supply chain management will become that much more important for the space industry in the following ways:

Supply and Logistics of Materials

This is the material that will be used for routine activities and operations, from the supply of food to the staff who’ll operate the missions to the re-usable technology that will allow humans to travel and work in space. Also included are critical materials such as fuel needed to support renewable energy sources within the spacecraft, oxygen to sustain life and spare parts that may be needed during the mission.

Space Logistics and Supply Chain

Space-related operations are projected to form humankind’s largest supply chain network. This network will help deliver humans and technology to outer space with the lowest possible operational cost and risk. In the long run, the supply chain will help make space exploration sustainable, giving us the ability to harvest resources from other planets and deliver them to earth to provide new sources of raw material and enable various industries.

Managing the supply chain and logistics in space will not be easy and is still speculative on many levels. However, many organizations have already started working on a variety of space-earth supply chain technology concepts. For example, MIT’s Interplanetary Supply Chain Management and Logistics Architectures (IPSCM&LA) project is funded to “develop an integrated capability for guiding the development of the interplanetary supply chain that will be required to enable sustainable space exploration of the Earth-Moon-Mars system and beyond.”

Space exploration is no longer a competition between superpowers. In addition to NASA and Roscosmos, other players like China Aerospace Industry Corporation (CASC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and European Space Agency (ESA) are planning to expand their space operations to increase efficiency, while independent companies like SpaceX and Arianespace provide cost-efficient launch and delivery programs with re-usable technologies.

The field of logistics and supply chain management is key to sustainable space exploration. Governments and private and public organizations boost the level of competition, providing new sources of technology, scientific research and human capital, and create new supply chains and logistics to efficiently deliver the material for these initiatives to succeed.

The future holds exciting and innovative discoveries in space exploration. While it’s exciting to witness early improvements in the industry, a diverse network of players will add value to the mix and push innovations in aerospace supply chain management and supply chain technology even further. I would love to hear your ideas about how companies like SpaceX and Arianespace will change the nature of supply chain management and logistics.

Looking forward to your comments!

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Ian Skarring
- July 05, 2019 at 11:33am
Thank you for the blog post. What types of industries do you think will emerge from the growth of outer space and interplanetary supply chains? Among new industries, what types of integration do you see with current markets to form even more niche / specialized industries?
Tom Harris
- March 19, 2018 at 8:26pm
Interesting point of view and likely will be a reality one day. With everything involving supply chain and logistics, it'll come down to the total cost vs. benefit scenario or situation.
Ilyas Kucukcay
- April 05, 2018 at 9:25am
I agree Tom; definitely an exciting field of opportunity for pioneer companies to grow and expand their operations.
Dave Luntz
- October 19, 2019 at 11:42am
A very interesting subject and one that has the potential to open up many future jobs.

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