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Low
Realization:
5 - 10 Years
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Space logistics alone can generate more than 20% of the total revenue from the space economy by 2040.

Source: Citi

Relevance to the Future of Logistics

End-to-End Satellite Logistics

Tens of thousands of satellites, particularly low- and medium-Earth-orbit (LEO and MEO) devices, are expected to be launched in the next decade. These satellites will require logistics services to reach their destined coordinates in space, and we here at DHL foresee the rise of end-to-end solutions from doorsteps to orbits as the market grows.

On the ground, the end-to-end logistics provider will reserve rocket freight space on behalf of its customers and send specialist teams to pick up satellites at manufacturing sites, delivering these with care to launch sites. In space, the same provider will utilize a shuttle, like D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier, to rapidly transport and deploy transported satellites in their proper orbits and positions over Earth so as to save each satellite’s power for operational use and not for travel. Looking ahead, the logistics provider will also be involved in transporting replacement parts and equipment for maintenance purposes (and personnel, if need be) and in satellite decommissioning at the end of a device’s life.

With these end-to-end solutions, orbiting satellites can be deployed with less cost and longer operational life. Those wishing to deploy satellites will enjoy a simplified process, only needing to work with one partner for all logistics services.

Supplying Cargo

As human activity expands beyond Earth’s surface, it will be necessary to transport more provisions, fuel, equipment, and materials into space (‘upmass’) to support this growth and in some cases, like with waste, transport items back down to Earth (‘downmass’). Players in this logistics industry niche must heavily scrutinize shipments for the products and packaging contained within, accounting for dimensions, weight, moisture content, and each item’s endurance in terms of pressure, extreme temperature, and the lack of gravity.

Additionally, somewhat like ground transportation but less flexible, logistics providers must also limit deliveries governed by stringent space and weight restrictions on rockets and shuttles, planning far in advance the shipments to be loaded. We here at DHL anticipate a growth of shipments destined for space. With this, we foresee an increased diversification of products delivered and also modular standardization of packaging and containers that adequately protect products while minimizing volume and weight. Meanwhile, development of bigger space vehicles and alternative launch mechanisms will help transport more cargo, reduce lead times, and enable cost reduction through economies of scale.

Satellite-Powered Supply Chains

The development of satellite constellations – groups of satellites working together – in space provides opportunities and benefits for supply chains on the ground.

Global connectivity is the biggest use case, with constellations like Starlink currently being installed to provide internet access in places that currently lack good connection. For logistics providers, this will enable continuous real-time updates from sensors, even if a shipment is in the middle of a desert or an ocean.

Another use case is forecasting and resilience. With improving camera and computer vision technology, satellite constellations can monitor developments on the ground and send data for analysis. For example, tracking crop growth can help supply chain teams forecast the number of trucks needed to meet this year’s agricultural harvest. Similarly, observing the growth and direction of forest fires and hurricanes can trigger supply chain diversions to mitigate risk.

Satellite constellations can also improve privacy through quantum communication. Devices have already successfully transmitted unhackable information from China to Europe via a quantum satellite. A network of this type of satellite can safely pass highly sensitive supply chain information between any two points on the planet.

Through their collected data, satellites can help logistics providers optimize supply chains and provide better services to customers.

Challenges

Extreme temperatures, zero gravity, and other special conditions limit which products and materials are permitted and how they are transported.
Launch vehicle dimensions and weight constraints may not allow for economies of scale.
So far, commercial cost-benefit propositions for logistics service providers are untested and the legal framework for logistics operations in space is not yet available.

This trend should be PASSIVELY monitored, with applications still mostly being developed or explored.

Outlook

Overall, the trend of Space Economy brings exciting opportunities to the logistics industry. As we humans begin to expand our existence beyond Earth’s surface, a time will come when products will be wholly manufactured and distributed in space and perhaps shipped back down to Earth. Supply chains, as they do on the ground, will be there to support and enable these developments and further endeavors.

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