When Florida had a COVID surge, it brought about a scarcity of liquid oxygen for persons in intensive treatment. Portion of the source chain for liquid oxygen was moved around to compensate for it, and that impacted about 50 % a dozen rocket launches. Florida was the supply of the will need for oxygen, but it pulled methods from the overall region.
We [United Launch Alliance] had a prepared start likely off the West Coast, out of Vandenberg Area Force Base in California. We had seen the concern starting off in Florida, and we stocked up on liquid oxygen forward of time. But we had been shocked when we could not get liquid nitrogen. By then all the trucks that could go cryogenic liquids, and the men and women who could generate them, experienced long gone to Florida.
It was variety of a amusing prospect for SpaceX and us to almost enable every single other. I did not have any nitrogen on the West Coastline, and they experienced a shortage of liquid oxygen on the East Coastline. I believe Gwynne Shotwell [president and chief operating officer of SpaceX] and I experienced a convention someplace jointly, and I explained, “Hey, I have got this big tank of liquid oxygen that was for a launch a number of months away. I’d be happy to make that offered to you.” She replied, “Well, I have received a bunch of nitrogen out on the West Coastline that I could loan you.” We were being arranging to trade this product when our respective teams solved the complications domestically, so we finished up not obtaining to do it. I was in fact a tiny unhappy since it would have been pleasurable.
I doubt we will experience a disaster quite that acute once more, but it did expose the weak backlinks in that source chain. We had a lack of drivers with the unique education and certification to generate liquid cryogenics all-around. Now that we comprehend that this is a vulnerability, we have more men and women qualified than are needed at any time.
This article was at first published with the title “Oxygen Shortages Delayed Rocket Launches” in Scientific American 326, 3, 71 (March 2022)