Space Products & Innovation
Transportation, Logistics, and Manufacturing
A longer-term (20-30 years) market for manufacturing in space has attracted some interest. For the most part, attention has focused on the innovative materials that can be produced on orbit. As demonstrated on the space shuttle and ISS, microgravity environment in space allows for the homogenous mixing of metals, the growth of pure crystals, and contamination-free processing in general.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, in combination with GPS tracking, are slowly beginning to be used more in logistics. Because RFID tags can be read at small distances, their use would greatly simplify and automate much of the tracking work.
NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) is designed to encourage private investment in space transportation. Currently, no privately developed rocket is capable of meeting NASA’s needs, but the agency is pursuing agreements for capability demonstrations and hopes to find a contractor for ISS resupply by 2010.
Applications of GPS technology have revolutionized air traffic control, shifting it from radar-based tools to more accurate and cost-effective systems using satellite technologies. In the United States, the airspace tracking system is called the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system.
Satellite systems also are essential for communication between management and remote manufacturing facilities. By outsourcing part of the manufacturing process, companies can reduce labor costs but often must cope with limited terrestrial infrastructure. Satellites provide a cost-effective method of retaining communications infrastructure without running fiber from the nearest population center.
Personal navigation systems are a quickly growing application of GPS for the consumer market. In-vehicle navigation systems can be purchased as an integral component of the car’s systems or an autonomous dashboard navigation unit.
Satellite data communications and GPS play a crucial role in logistics. GPS and fleet tracking enable timely and dependable deliveries to reduce the amount of capital manufacturers have tied up in inventory. While this “lean” thinking is not new, the technologies that support these business methods are evolving and continue to leverage space assets.