Pandemic-driven liquid oxygen shortage threatens ULA, SpaceX launches – TechCrunch

The continuing reverberations from the COVID-19 pandemic are persevering with to make themselves felt in probably the most unlikely of locations: spaceflight. On Friday, NASA took the surprising step to floor a September satellite tv for pc launch as a result of pandemic-related shortages of liquid oxygen (LOX), and there could also be extra launch delays but to come back.

Demand for oxygen has solely risen with the Delta variant, which in lots of cities pushed hospitalization and ICU admittance charges again to the place they have been in the beginning of the pandemic. However oxygen isn’t simply utilized in ventilators. The area trade makes use of LOX as an oxidizer in rocket propellant, typically together with different gases like liquid hydrogen. (That’s why there may be a lot steam throughout a launch – it’s the hydrogen reacting with the oxygen to type water.)

NASA and United Launch Alliance, a three way partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, stated the launch date for the Landsat 9 satellite tv for pc will now happen on September 23.

ULA isn’t the one launch firm to probably be impacted by the LOX scarcity. “We’re really going to be impacted this yr with the dearth of liquid oxygen for launch,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated final week throughout a panel on the Area Symposium. “We definitely are going to verify the hospitals are going to have the oxygen that they want, however for anyone who has liquid oxygen to spare, ship me an e mail.”

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, was extra tempered a number of days afterward Twitter, saying that the LOX scarcity “is a threat, however not but a limiting issue.”

Even past the precise provide of oxygen, the fuel scarcity can also be being exacerbated by widespread transport delays as coronavirus-related disruptions proceed to impression the provision chain. ULA CEO Tory Bruno added on Twitter {that a} contractor who handles nitrogen transportation to Vandenberg Area Power Base in California was diverted to help with LOX supply in Florida.

It’s not simply the area trade that’s feeling the consequences of the LOX squeeze: shortly earlier than NASA introduced the launch delay, Orlando, Florida officers despatched out a separate discover urging residents to preserve water, as LOX is used to deal with town’s water provide.

“Nationally, the demand for liquid oxygen is extraordinarily excessive because the precedence for its use is to avoid wasting lives, which is limiting the provision that [Orlando municipal water utility] OUC is receiving,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer stated on Fb. “There may very well be impacts to our water high quality if we don’t instantly cut back the quantity of water we have to deal with.”

As early as Could of final yr, the nonprofit Heart for World Improvement referred to as COVID-19 a “wake-up name” for making certain an ample provide of oxygen to hospitals.

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