supply chain disturbances

Focus on the disruptions of Pandemic on the Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While all space enterprises are affected by supply chain disruptions, established space organizations are affected differently than emerging space companies.

Panelists at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics‘ ASCEND conference on Nov. 10 stated the shocks to the global supply chain were significant. The epidemic brought to light existing flaws in traditional space industry supply networks, which must be addressed.

“The supply chain holds huge underinvestment in comparison to other industries.” One of the key reasons we’re having several problems is this,” said Cateni CEO, Paul Graven, a company that develops avionics and software for the aircraft industry. “The space supply chain regularly behaves as if orders have caught it off guard. That is rare of any other sector.”

“Some of the fundamental problems, such as supply chain underinvestment, were exacerbated by COVID,” he said. “It resulted in a situation in which supply chain shocks were felt even more acutely.”

He said that the underinvestment was part of a larger industry attempt to improve supply chains, but that it diminished the resilience that extra capacity provided. “When you optimize something, it becomes brittle,” he explained.

Strategies by the Prominent Companies

Companies producing vast numbers of spacecraft, like constellations, are in a different predicament. Because of the significantly higher amounts of components they employ, “their supply chain problem is a lot different than DOD space or even major commercial satellites,” Graven added. “They may face some early beginning issues because the supply chain is unsure of what they require when they begin.”

“I set those guys aside when I’ve been doing supply chain activities in the space arena,” he remarked of satellite constellation producers. “They have actual issues, but they’re similar to large-scale production, such as automotive.”

The expansion of constellations may have unintended consequences for the existing space supply chain. The usage of radiation-hardened electronics is one example. Because these satellites operate in lower orbits and have shorter lifetimes, low Earth orbit constellation makers are avoiding the usage of such electronics, according to Carie Mullins, analytic lead at BryceTech. “It’s going to completely disrupt the supply chain,” she predicted.

However, many government operations demanding that degree of performance require a steady supply of rad-hardened electronics, according to Bradley Reed. According to a consultant for the United States Space Systems Command, NewSpace is creating an industrial base that will not need to be regulated and will self-regulate.

He urged that the National Space Council, which will meet for the first time under the Biden administration on Dec. 1, address issues with the space sector supply chain. He believes it is a topical topic for debate within the executive branch to find solutions.

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