At the SpaceWaves virtual conference presented by FreightWaves on December 3, 2020, NASA called for the commercial logistics sector to help bring new ideas and innovation to their Artemis program. By 2024, NASA plans to bring the first woman and the next man to the moon and establish the Gateway outpost in the moon's orbit. This program would bring people to the moon to stay and facilitate future deep-space exploration. A manned Mars mission is in NASA's sights for the 2030s.
To reach these goals, NASA recognizes the need for the development of completely autonomous systems. Because of the distance of over 200,000 miles to the moon, any communication from earth would not occur in real-time but have a 2.5-second delay, making remote control operation a challenge. For Mars, the communication delay would be an insurmountable 40 minutes. Automated guidance systems must ensure that unmanned spacecraft can dock itself to the Gateway. Decision-making capabilities and machine-learning are necessary for every robotic system without an in-person operator.
Cargo packaging is another challenge, from basic supplies to large equipment. Rapid temperature changes and radiation are among the extreme conditions cargo faces on the days-long journey to the Gateway. The packaging solutions to these hurdles are limited by weight, volume, as well as the ability for the material to be repurposed or recycled later in the mission.
The uncharted logistics of deep space deliveries has prompted NASA to approach the commercial sector. There are complex questions that still need answers: how to plan given widely-spaced possible delivery windows, how to accommodate changing demand with such a large delivery time, and how to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Mark Wiese, manager of deep space logistics for the Gateway program, discussed how NASA plans to take existing technology used in the logistics sector today and "translate" it to their application of the supply chain in space.
“This is where specialist companies like Able Freight have an opportunity”, says Orlando Wong, CEO of Able Freight. “For 28 years our company manages cold chain air freight logistics for hundreds of business clients”. And continues: “While deep space presents new challenges at much lower temperatures, in our industry we already operate under strict requirements”.
Able Freight can bring ideas and innovation to NASA. Michael Kronenberg, CSO/CTO of Able Freight, confirms: “It's an exciting time to consider the possibilities of where technology and innovation can take us and how to collaborate with NASA bringing Able Freight’s perishable logistics experience into space!"