Supply Chain

Supply Chain Delays

Supply Chain Delays and the Space Industry

Every space launch represents a massive investment of time, money, and resources, all necessary to fit a rocket through a precise launch window. Aside from human cargo, rocket launches also put important equipment into orbit around Earth, ranging from military satellites to communication transmitters.

These critical launches require a trusted, reliable supply chain. The timely delivery of parts, resources, and equipment needed for launches is crucial to meet the strict launch schedules of companies like SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Relativity Space, and Blue Origin, along with the agencies they support, and supply chain issues can cause major disruptions and delays.

As companies reach for the stars, the need for a reliable, streamlined, and efficient supply-distribution network becomes more and more crucial. While weather or failed systems checks can delay launches prior to takeoff, a weak, unreliable supply chain should never be cause for a launch delay.

Underinvestment in the Space Industry Supply Chain

The distribution network and supply chain that services the space industry provides vital components and precision equipment that generally can’t be found elsewhere without drastically increasing launch timetables. Unfortunately, shipping and logistics solutions in the arena of space-related tech have been underinvested since before the COVID pandemic. And, of course, the pandemic exacerbated existing problems.

For instance, the well-known James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was initially proposed for a 2007 launch and has been in development since the mid-90s. The JWST launch was plagued by delays, many of which were supply chain-related, and finally took off in 2021.

Bear in mind that other projects—those that were to follow the JWST—were postponed, sometimes indefinitely, until after the successful launch of the telescope over a decade later. One distribution delay can offset everything lined up to launch for years to come.

Underinvestment in the space supply chain began, oddly enough, with an attempt to optimize distribution. Unfortunately, the optimization resulted in less redundancy and reduced capacity in the chain. The types of equipment being shipped to space industry customers tend to include unique, expensive, and fragile components and require custom shipping options that very few distributors are prepared to handle.

Of course, some space companies are beginning to mass-produce devices destined for planetary orbits, like SpaceX. Starlink satellites, for example, are being deployed en masse in  orbit around Earth to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of the planet. In such situations, more traditional supply chain issues (like those in the automotive industry) can still cause massive launch delays. For example, items such as semiconductors and other technical components are required in every satellite.

In order to simplify and accelerate the supply chain process, companies like Relativity Space are taking advantage of modern technology to 3-D print entire rockets with fewer parts and faster production times. 3-D printed parts can be made to order and quickly shipped to where they are needed.

Slowing the Growth of Space Corporations

 Florida’s Space Coast, arguably the world’s largest and most well-known spaceport, has been hit especially hard by the space supply network’s failures. Since private companies first began to move in, the space industry in Central Florida has grown exponentially. A significant portion of the local economy depends on the aerospace corporations operating in and around Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.

However, the infrastructure supporting the aerospace industry has not kept pace with the aforementioned growth. The supply network in Florida consists of a complex web of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and service providers that support the space industry. And while that web slackens, space companies are forced to delay projects while seeking qualified suppliers of rare and vital components.

Many aerospace corporations rely on train and truck transportation to deliver parts and materials. The COVID pandemic continues to wreak havoc on shipping channels, and these issues are expected to continue (maybe even worsen) into 2023.

Investors and existing companies are now beginning to look toward expanding their efforts into supply chain business opportunities. Still, much must be done in order to bring our shipping and logistics infrastructure into the modern age. The space industry, in particular, desperately needs a reliable network of suppliers to reduce the number of delays and disruptions offsetting launch schedules.

All Points – The Road Ahead

 Thankfully, some good news is happening in the aerospace infrastructure world. For example, the rockets themselves—especially SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Glenn—are designed to be both highly reliable and cost-effective. Many parts for these ships can be mass-produced and stockpiled in reserve. More advanced manufacturing techniques are available now, including 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, which can reduce the time and cost of producing spacecraft components. And, to add to this good news, companies like All Points have put a keen focus on ensuring an uninterrupted supply chain for these components.

As All Points navigates this new environment and its ever increasing supply demands, we strive to dramatically improve the aerospace industry’s supply, logistics, information technology, and mission support capabilities. In addition to providing top quality critical supplies, within budget and on schedule, we also offer global transportation services for the aerospace industry. We have the capacity and expertise to deliver high-quality, specialty components to space companies when they need them so as not to cause any delays. Our Space Prep division is also working to provide critical payload and launch services to both NASA and commercial partners.

Tim Nelson, Vice President of All Points’ Technology Sales division, sums up the importance of timely communication when faced with supply chain delays: “By being transparent with data concerning delays to our military, civilian, contractors, and commercial partners early in the process, they can embrace the challenge and deal with it in a positive and resilient way. Our team of logistics professionals reach out to suppliers and let our customers know about updated delivery dates either early or late, demonstrating integrity through proactive communication.”

All Points offers engineering, IT, modeling and simulation, software development, and technology sales to aerospace industry companies and rocket manufacturers across the nation. To learn more, connect with us today.