If you think setting up a world-class supply chain network is challenging, consider the task that faces NASA's logisticians.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration hopes to have a permanent space station on the moon within the next 15 years. To make that possible, it must develop a channel for delivering food, fuel, oxygen, exploration equipment, and spare parts that's at least as good as the best earthbound networks, if not better.
At least NASA will have some help. Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers, Olivier L. de Weck and David Simchi-Levi, have begun work on a project to determine what an Earth-to-moon supply chain might look like and how it might work. In January, they released SpaceNet, a software tool for modeling interplanetary supply chains. The plan they developed is based on a network of distribution centers, or "nodes," that would include satellites in stable orbit around Earth, the moon, or Mars, as well as freefloating platforms that would remain in fixed locations where the gravitational forces between two planets cancel one another out.
Although the interplanetary supply chain will operate on essentially the same principles as its terrestrial counterparts, the researchers acknowledge that NASA logisticians will face a few added challenges. For one thing, transit times (at least in the case of Mars) could stretch to nearly a year. For another, capacity would be limited by the number of space launches. It's safe to say, none of this will make the traditional cost vs. service tradeoffs any easier.
[For more information, visit spacelogistics.mit.edu/space_net.htm.]