Space Logistics

By Anthony K. McClaren

With the arrival of Elon Mosk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and soon to be other space cowboys into space, there has never been a more exciting time to think about space travel, and, relevant here, space transport. Preliminary information suggests humanity will have a presence on the moon by 2025, and a presence on Mars by 2035. Further, discussions about privatizing the International Space Station for tourism, as well as colonizing and mining asteroids, leave open anything to the imagination about where we are headed. Of course, if we’re going to go somewhere, we need to have supplies to get us there, supplies to sustain us there, and supplies to assist our return.

“Space Logistics” is defined as “the theory and practice of driving space system design for operability, and of managing the flow of material, services, and information needed throughout a space system lifecycle, and includes terrestrial logistics in support of space travel.” - American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In order to move things from planet to planet, consideration must be given to a complex supply network on the ground and in space. Issues and challenges will include: propellants and fuels, crew provisions, waste and disposal, infrastructure, carriers, and a multitude of other challenges.

The current logistics supply chain of shipper-broker-carrier seems a bit convoluted for space logistics, at least once in space. The carrier will serve as the dominant prong in this relationship, and its role will increase dramatically, serving both as a carrier from ground to space, point to point in space, and then space to different ground. Casualty and cargo claims will inevitably become more prevalent, due to the nature of multiple movements of goods, carrier to carrier, and as such insurance for such events, and coverage of such events under policies will be heavily litigated. Further, it seems quietly likely that new regulations, perhaps an entirely new agency beyond the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, will be drafted and adopted, to contend with these complexities.

I’m going to keep my eye on this subject matter as it develops over the next decade, and will be looking for ways to integrate events not yet contemplated at the time of this writing. A very exciting time!

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