Yenra : Astronomy : Interplanetary Supply Chain : Research for development of logistics architectures needed for human and robotic space exploration

Supply Chain

MIT Professor David Simchi-Levi will lead the Interplanetary Supply-chain Management and Logistics Architectures project, in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and United Space Alliance. Its purpose is to create a framework for analysis and strategic planning of the future interplanetary supply-chain to support NASA's new vision for human and robotic space exploration.

The interplanetary supply-chain encompasses the transfer of goods and associated information from terrestrial suppliers to launch sites, the integration of payloads onto launch vehicles and launch to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the in-space transfer of payloads from LEO to the Moon and Mars as well as planetary surface logistics.

Although there are a vast number of scientific principles and techniques that have been developed since World-War-II to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of supply-chain management (SCM) in the private and military sectors on Earth, the potential benefits of this body-of-knowledge are currently only poorly understood in the context of space exploration.

"Sustainable space exploration is impossible without appropriate supply-chain management," said Simchi-Levi. "Unlike Apollo, future exploration will have to rely on a complex supply network on the ground AND in space. The primary goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive SCM framework and planning tool for space-logistics.

An integrated space-logistics framework will be developed in four phases.

In the initial phase, the team will identify terrestrial supply-chain analogies by investigating and contrasting SCM lessons learned in three areas. These include major industries specializing in low-quantity, capital-intensive products; long-range military operations such as naval-submarine logistics; and supply-chains for operations in remote environments. This will categorize the tradeoffs between transportation modes in terms of unit cost, time and availability and the bulk-density and criticality of goods to be transported. Decision trees and strategies for separation of human/cargo, consumables, and high-value-spares using different transportation modes (e.g. slow-electrical-spiral vs. fast-chemical-transfers) will be developed. The team will also identify where terrestrial logistics analogies break down when applied to space exploration.

The next phase will involve space logistics network analysis, during which the team will build an integrated network model of space logistics, where the nodes are Earth-Moon-Mars-orbits and expected landing-exploration sites. The arcs will represent discrete cargo flows between the nodes. Conceptually, this is similar to networks of major enterprises on Earth, for which extensive analysis methods exist. One significant difference is that the nodal-motion in space creates time and energy dependencies in the network that do not exist on Earth.

The third phase will explore demand-supply modeling with the element of uncertainty. Major uncertainties in supply and demand of the space-logistics-network will be quantified. Examples include variations in demand, cargo-mix, and transportation costs, as well as unplanned supply-line interruptions, plus storage issues, such as degradation, obsolescence, and boil-off of cryogenic gases over time.

The final phase will leverage the previous models and combine them with existing space logistics models to develop an interplanetary supply-chain architecture and corresponding trade studies.