SCM Blasts Off into Space

NASA awards MIT $3.8 million for research into "interplanetary supply chains"-which, as it turns out, really aren't all that different from certain Earth-bound enterprise architectures.

With a recent $3.8 million NASA award to MIT for research on "interplanetary supply chain architectures," SCM is soaring to new heights of visibility.

But what exactly is an "interplanetary supply chain," and how does it relate to enterprise supply chains right here on Earth?

As defined by MIT professors Olivier de Weck and David Simchi-Levi, lead researchers on the project, the term essentially refers to the transfer of goods from "terrestrial suppliers" to space shuttle launch sites, and from these launch sites to shuttles, space stations, the moon, and even to Mars.

Like ordinary Earth-bound supply chains, the interplanetary type incorporates elements ranging from inventory management to warehouse management and logistics.

Yet the need for effective SCM—and the difficulties posed by getting supplies into and around in outer space—are truly out of this world, de Weck said, during an interview with

Whats at stake: financial efficiencies, as well as potential safeguarding of human life by preventing accidents in space.

Still, the two professors say they see analogies between the interplanetary supply chain and certain sorts of terrestrial supply chains.

Working with partners that include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Payload Systems Inc., and United Space Laboratories, they will use lessons already learned here on Earth to help build a framework for analyzing and planning interplanetary SCM (supply chain management).

What sets the interplanetary supply chain apart from most of its Earthly counterparts?

"For one thing, most terrestrial SCM systems make the assumption that you can ship whenever you want," de Weck told

But in interplanetary logistics, in contrast, planners often need to heed the relative alignments of the Earth and other planetary bodies.

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