The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting Space Launches. Here’s Why

Cortez Deacetis

Supply chains have been wreaking havoc across the industrial world. The complicated web that retains the world’s economies together has been fraying at the edges, resulting in some sudden shortages, this kind of as a lack of rental automobiles in Alaska and a absence of Lunchables at the author’s nearby grocery store. 


Now there is a provide shortage that directly ties to the pandemic that is starting off to have an affect on the room launch market – oxygen.

It is common know-how at this level that liquid oxygen (LOX) is an essential tool for combating significant symptoms of COVID-19. Most sufferers admitted to the medical center with the virus have to have oxygen instantly pumped into the lungs, ordinarily equipped by LOX suppliers these kinds of as AirGas or other professional gasoline businesses. 

Oxygen is also utilised in significant portions in a completely different software – rocket engines.

Chilled oxygen is a needed propellant chemical for all the foremost start companies, like SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, and ULA. But it really is becoming more challenging and more durable to attain the liquid sort of the most ample component in the Earth’s crust.

That’s in no tiny aspect since the similar process used to make oxygen for rocket fuel can also generate oxygen made use of for COVID people. And as Richard Craig, the vice president of technological and regulatory affairs for the Compressed Gas Affiliation, put it: “People come 1st.”

Even avid house exploration lovers wouldn’t disagree with that logic. But the spike in COVID conditions in excess of the summer time is commencing to tax the supply chain for oxygen.


It received to the stage that both equally Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President, and Elon Musk, its CEO, spoke out about the opportunity impression a deficiency of oxygen could have on their flight plan. Shotwell went so far as to specifically question meeting-goers at the 36th House Symposium to “send out [her] an electronic mail” if they take place to have any liquid oxygen to spare.

She will be challenging-pressed to uncover any in the household point out of some of SpaceX’s launches. Florida is one of the toughest-hit states in the present-day resurgence of the pandemic.

LOX ordinarily is just not transported about significantly distances – most is produced about 200-300 miles (322-483 kilometers) from where by it is distributed. It is feasible to transport the liquid even further. However, one more confounding aspect impacts the intricate LOX supply chain – truck motorists.

LOX is hugely flammable and explosive, so drivers that ferry it concerning output and use websites these as rocket pads have to be even much more hugely qualified than a standard commercial truck driver. Suitable now, there is a scarcity of business truckers of all stripes and a distinct shortage of people competent to haul liquid oxygen.


While some suppliers are, in truth, able to ship oxygen provides farther than their regular buyer base, that normally takes up worthwhile time from the truckers who would in any other case be capable to provide it to closer locations.

Those motorists usually are not only responsible for offering oxygen, however.

Other factors for rocket launches, such as liquid nitrogen, are also carried by very qualified motorists. This brings about offer chain constraints from the other side as very well.

In actuality, NASA had to delay a rocket launch of an Earth-surveillance satellite by a 7 days thanks to a absence of liquid nitrogen ULA employs to test the rocket in advance of launch. But the liquid nitrogen was itself a casualty of the oxygen shortage, according to a statement from NASA: “Current pandemic needs for health-related liquid oxygen have impacted the supply of the necessary liquid nitrogen offer to Vandenberg.”

This absolutely will not be the last scheduling casualty of this escalating supply chain dilemma.

SpaceX hopes to surpass their whole of 26 launches from past 12 months and are nicely on their way to doing so. But their timeline, and all other launch providers’ timelines, could possibly be impacted by this supply chain disruption.

This is just an additional explanation to hope for a swift conclude to the pandemic for room exploration lovers.

This write-up was originally revealed by Universe Currently. Read through the unique write-up.


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