To go boldy: procurement's role in space exploration

Rebecca Ellinor Tyler is former editor of Supply Management
10 February 2015

Space: the final frontier. It sounds dramatic (I did borrow the phrase from a drama after all) but the challenges are considerable and statistics staggering.

Towards the end of last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) made history when it successfully landed a robot on a comet in deep space. The comet is more than four billion years old and hurtling along at a speed as great as 135,000kph.

The Rosetta spacecraft, which transported the Philae lander, spent 10 years travelling more than six billion kilometres to rendezvous with the comet and gather data to help us learn more about the origins of life. And that’s just one example.

So what of the procurement professionals who work on these missions? They can face deadlines driven by cycles of the sun and moon, and a shopping list of requirements that may include items such as a heat shield that can withstand temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the means of testing equipment while still on earth.

Add to that the very specialist nature of these requirements that mean there are few suppliers to choose from and yet the economic interests of numerous countries to consider.

As Stefano Fiorilli, head of ESA’s procurement department, tells SM in our cover feature: “We’re at the crossroads of political mandate and industrial reality.”

When it comes to procurement for space exploration, a truly integrated, partnership approach with suppliers is required. So, too, is a real and vested interest in their success and profitability, without which the long-term achievements of the industry would be in jeopardy.

It must have been remarkable to see Rosetta arrive at its destination at the end of a journey that was a quarter of a century in the making and to know that you played a key part. As Fiorilli says: “Everything starts with us.”

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