While supply chain disruptions have an influence on space industries, traditional space enterprises are impacted differently than newer ones. During a session of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ ASCEND conference on November 10, panelists said that the pandemic’s shocks to the worldwide supply chain revealed underlying flaws in the traditional space sector supply networks.
“In comparison to other sectors, the supply chain has a tremendous underinvestment.” That’s one of the reasons we’re facing so many difficulties,” said Paul Graven, CEO of Cateni, a business that makes avionics and software for the aircraft sector. “The supply chain in the space frequently acts as though orders have caught it off guard. That doesn’t happen in any other industry.”
“Some of the underlying problems, such as underinvestment in the supply chain, were worsened by COVID,” he stated. “It produced a situation where supply chain shocks got felt even more strongly.” 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 something is optimized, it gets brittle,” he explained.
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 issue is a lot distinct than the DOD space or even key commercial satellites,” Graven added. “They might have some early problems since the supply chain isn’t sure what they’ll need when they start.”
Suppliers, on the other hand, will adjust over time and be able to offer the quantity of components they require on a regular basis, as opposed to the irregular orders from conventional space projects, he stated. They are nevertheless dealing with the same broader supply chain difficulties that consumer and automotive electronics firms are dealing with, notably for semiconductors.
” When I was handling supply chain operations in the space domain, I placed those guys aside,” he remarked of satellite constellation producers. “They have actual concerns, but they’re similar to the large-scale production, like 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 the lower orbits and also have shorter lifetimes, low Earth orbit constellation makers are avoiding the usage of such electronics, according to Carie Mullins, who works as the analytic lead at BryceTech. “It’s going to entirely disrupt the supply chain,” she predicted.
According to Bradley Reed, who works as a consultant for the US Space Force’s Space Systems Command, the supply of the rad-hardened electronics must be maintained for various government tasks that demand that degree of performance. “NewSpace is establishing an industrial base which, at this moment in time, I don’t believe we need to maintain since it is self-regulating,” he stated. “To accomplish architecture goals, the US government still requires to maintain a plan of building radiation-hardened electronics as well as an industrial base.”