The industrial world has been suffering from supply chains. The intricate web that holds all of the world's economies together is deteriorating at the edges. This has led to unexpected shortages such as the lack of rental cars in Alaska or the lack of lunchables in the author's local grocery shop.
There is a shortage of oxygen in space launch industry.
Liquid oxygen (LOX), which is a powerful tool to combat severe COVID-19 symptoms, is well-known. Most patients with COVID-19 need oxygen directly pumped into their lungs. This is usually done by LOX suppliers like AirGas and other commercial gas companies.
In another application, oxygen is used in large quantities in rocket engines.
All the major launch companies, including SpaceX and Virgin Orbit, require chilled oxygen as a propellant chemical. It's getting harder to find the liquid form this most abundant element in Earth's crust.
This is due to the fact that the same process that created oxygen for rocket fuel can also be used to make oxygen for COVID patients. Richard Craig, vice president of technical regulatory affairs at the Compressed Gas Association stated that "People come first."
This logic is supported by even space exploration enthusiasts. However, the increase in COVID cases this summer is starting to tax oxygen supply chains.
Both Gwynne shotwell, SpaceX President, and Elon Musk (its CEO), spoke out about the possible impact that a lack oxygen could have on their flight schedules. Shotwell even asked conference-goers attending the 36th Space Symposium "to send [her] an Email" if they had any liquid oxygen left.
She will have difficulty finding any in the state where SpaceX launches. Florida is the worst-hit state in the current pandemic.
LOX is not normally transported far. It is usually created between 200-300 miles (3222-483 km) from the place it is distributed. The liquid can be transported further. Another factor that can be confusing is the complex LOX supply chain truck drivers.
Because LOX can be highly explosive and flammable, drivers who transport it between production and consumption sites like rocket pads need to be more skilled than a regular commercial truck driver. There is currently a shortage in commercial truckers, with a special shortage for those who can haul liquid oxygen.
Although some suppliers can ship oxygen supplies further than their regular customer base, this takes time away from truckers who could otherwise deliver it to more remote locations.
These drivers are not only responsible for delivering oxygen.
Highly qualified drivers also transport other components necessary for rocket launches such as liquid nitrogen. This also causes supply chain restrictions on the other side.
NASA was forced to delay the launch of an Earth-surveillance satellite rocket by one week because of a shortage of liquid nitrogen ULA used to test it before launch. NASA stated that the shortage of oxygen caused the loss of liquid nitrogen.
This will certainly not be the end of the scheduling problems that are a result of this growing supply chain problem.
SpaceX is well on their way towards surpassing their 26 launch total from last year. This disruption to the supply chain could impact their timeline and that of all other launch providers.
This is another reason to pray for a quick end to the space exploration enthusiast pandemic.
Universe Today originally published this article. You can read the original article.