A ripple impact in the supply chain induced by growing demands for liquid oxygen to assist COVID-19 patients has caused a one-week postponement in deploying the upcoming Landsat satellite on the Atlas 5.
Because “pandemic requirements for the medical liquid oxygen have affected the shipping of the necessary liquid nitrogen supply,” NASA announced August 27 that the deployment of Landsat 9 on the Atlas 5 from the Vandenberg Space Force Base situated in California had been pushed back a week, from September 16 to no earlier than September 23. LN2, or liquid nitrogen, is used to make the gaseous nitrogen required for launch site activities.
Del Jenstrom, project manager of NASA Landsat 9, stated the concern was not a general scarcity of liquid nitrogen but rather a transportation difficulty during a virtual news conference on the scheduled launch on August 31.
“Liquid nitrogen is plentiful in the Los Angeles area. “The issue is that they’ll need some trucks to transport it to Vandenberg,” he explained. “Liquid oxygen shipments have been paying far larger premiums than the liquid nitrogen deliveries as a result of the pandemic, and LN2 trucks have indeed been altered to carry liquid oxygen,” says the source.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) told the project on August 23 that liquid nitrogen resources at the base were “critically low” and could not sustain impending prelaunch test operations or the launch itself, according to Jenstrom. As a result, Pam Melroy, Deputy Administrator of NASA, contacted senior DLA officials to discuss how the base’s nitrogen supply could be restored.
Airgas, which manages the nitrogen supplies at Vandenberg, is temporarily increasing deliveries by bringing in “a dozen or more” liquid nitrogen tankers from Gulf Coast. “Right now, we’re witnessing a significant rise in the amount of LN2 shipments to the base,” he added, “as far as we understand, based on the most recent reports, we’re on schedule to support the launch on September 23.”
Gwynne Shotwell, chief operating officer and president of SpaceX, discussed supply chain challenges relating indirectly or directly to liquid oxygen that is utilized by hospitals as an oxygen source for ventilators during a discussion panel at 36th Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs on August 24.
“We will be hampered this year due to a paucity of liquid oxygen for release,” she explained. “We will surely ensure that the hospitals have the oxygen they require, but if anyone has liquid oxygen to provide, please shoot me an email.”
Tory Bruno, United Launch Alliance’s CEO, hinted about a challenge delivering liquid nitrogen to the Vandenberg station to support the scheduled Landsat 9 launch at the time. “Right now, I’m dealing with that situation,” Bruno stated.