The launch dates of several upcoming launches have been pushed back because of a shortage of liquid oxygen, needed instead for medical purposes, which in turn has slowed deliveries of liquid nitrogen because trucks have been reassigned to delivering oxygen to hospitals..
The effects of a nationwide liquid oxygen shortage caused by the recent spike in hospitalized coronavirus patients has already delayed the launch of a Landsat imaging satellite by a week, and threatens to impact more missions from launch sites in Florida and California.
NASA said last week that the launch of the Landsat 9 satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California would be delayed one week until no earlier than Sept. 23 due to a lack of liquid nitrogen at the military base. ULA uses gaseous nitrogen, which is converted from liquid nitrogen, for purges during testing and countdown operations.
The space agency said pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen impacted the delivery of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.
SpaceX officials have also indicated that their launch schedule may be effected as well.
While the Wuhan flu is being blamed for this shortage, I think it is possibly more related to the rise in launches themselves. Such flu epidemics have happened in the past, causing similar spikes in hospitals, without causing delays in rocket launches. However, the U.S. this year has already almost doubled the number of yearly launches as had occurred during most of the 21st century. In addition, there are now numerous companies building and testing new rockets, all of which require liquid oxygen. The demand by rocket companies for such fuels is thus far higher than it has been for decades.
So, what is the solution? I just described it. The high demand will force the price up for liquid oxygen, which in turn will make it profitable for new providers to enter the market producing liquid oxygen to meet the new demand. It simply appears that at this moment the industry that produces these gases has been slow in reacting to its new demand.
We need only give the situation time and freedom to get solved and, most important, stay out of the way. Freedom and capitalism will solve the problem, as it always does.
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