ESD Professors Receive NASA Funding

Interplantetary supply chain

for Interplanetary Supply Chain Management Research

May 12, 2005

The National Aeronautics & Astronautics Administration (NASA) has awarded two ESD professors funding to conduct research to support its new vision for human and robotic space exploration.

Contact info:

David Simchi-Levi
77 Mass Ave.
Building 1-171
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

Phone: 617.253.6160
Email to:

Contact info:

Olivier L. de Weck
77 Mass Ave.
Building 33-410
Cambridge, MA 02139

Phone: 617.253.0255
Email to:

David Simchi-Levi, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems and Olivier de Weck, Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems will lead the “Interplanetary Supply Chain Management and Logistics Architectures” project, in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Payload Systems Inc. and United Space Alliance, LLC. Its purpose is to create a framework for analysis and strategic planning of the future interplanetary supply chain.

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."

Click Canadian Arctic at 75N 90W. 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. This is both a practical challenge as well as an academic research opportunity.

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. This data will be used to populate the supply chain network model in order to run different logistics scenarios, starting with Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) development and test flights in 2008 (Spiral 1)-.

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. "The largest challenge will be to estimate realistic types, amounts and timing of cargo flows in the interplanetary-supply chain, in the absence of fully developed exploration mission plans," noted de Weck.

"This proposal would not have come about but for the integrating effect of the Engineering System Division that is bringing together all kinds of engineers with social scientists and management specialists," noted Professor Dan Hastings, the Division’s Director. "Indeed, the Interplanetary Supply chain represents a complex network that demands interdisciplinary research combining technical and economic analyses. Important challenges in this project include managing risk, optimizing system architecture, and developing a sustainable supply chain, aspects that all are characteristics of the type of engineering systems challenges that ESD faculty address."

The research is being conducted in coordination with the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics (AA) and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). The project has a total budget of $3.8 million and is scheduled for a period of two years from 2005-2007. A number of masters and doctoral level students from ESD, AA and CEE are expected to participate. The project was selected in December 2004 as one of 70 among 3500 entries into NASA’s extramural Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Human and Robotic Technologies.