Several Praxair trucks carrying their liquid oxygen or LO2 arrived at launch pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. When LO2 was unloaded from one of the trucks into a huge storage ball located at the northwest corner of the mat, fog was visible. Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett
As Florida responds to another surge in patients with new coronary pneumonia, healthcare providers have insufficient oxygen supplies, and this shortage is affecting industries other than healthcare, such as aerospace.
To understand why the aerospace industry depends on oxygen, we need to understand some basic rocket science.
The rocket leaves the ground by burning the propellant that produces thrust. This reaction is called combustion and requires oxygen. Since there is no oxygen in space, many rockets use liquid oxygen or LOX to help burn the propellant. Engineers cool the liquid oxygen to a very low temperature and then load it into the rocket’s fuel tank.
As more and more COVID patients require oxygen during their recovery, the supply of liquid oxygen is decreasing and being transferred to hospitals. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket uses rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen to generate thrust. The reduction in the supply of liquid oxygen may be a problem for future SpaceX launches.
SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said: “This year we will actually be affected by the lack of liquid oxygen needed for launch.” “Of course we will make sure that the hospital has the liquid oxygen we need. But for Anyone who has liquid oxygen available, can you send me an email?”
Another rocket company, the United Launch Alliance, said it is working to provide liquid oxygen for the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California next month. The contractor delivering liquid oxygen to the facility is moving its cargo to Florida.
The USG contractor transporting the liquid GN2 to VAFB is helping with COVID-related LOX work in Florida. Now working in that situation. https://t.co/sTyprcRA42
Even NASA is paying close attention to supply issues. The agency’s next moon rocket, SLS, requires approximately 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen per launch.
There are already about 800,000 gallons of liquid on the launch pad of the Kennedy Space Center, stored in a huge tank at launch site 39B. NASA will need these supplies for the wet rehearsal of the Artemis I mission—a mission exercise to send an unmanned space capsule to the moon and return. The launch itself also requires hundreds of thousands of gallons.
“Right now, we have no problems,” said Eric Dierschka of NASA’s Propellant Management Division. “But of course we are very sensitive to what is happening in the market and the COVID in the hospital. So this may become a problem.”
The oxygen shortage also affects other industries. In Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dell urged residents to save water. The city’s utility company uses liquid oxygen to filter the water supply.
As the number of new coronary pneumonia cases in Florida continues to increase, there are concerns that the supply of liquid oxygen outside of the healthcare sector may dry up.
Brendan covers space news for WMFE, from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE’s weekly radio show and podcast “Are We There?” Explore human space exploration. He also helped produce WMFE’s public affairs program “Intersection”, and cooperated with the host…Read more »