Friday, December 3, 2010

As Express Freight Consignments Go This Is A Record Shipment?

How Long Florida to California? The Third Party Logistics of Tomorrow.
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – FURTHER - Stick with this one, it’s not a fantasy. A shipment of experimental goods took off from Florida on the 22nd April and landed today (the 3rd December) at an airstrip in California and the consignee was delighted. Slow you say? Not a bit of it, for these goods were experimental equipment shipping aboard a new thirty foot vehicle weighing around five tonnes. Oh. And a top speed around 17,500 miles per hour.

Today saw the return of the X-37B, at one quarter of the size of a space shuttle it landed after more than seven months in space doing, well, whatever top secret space vehicles do. What is important however is the pilot, or rather lack of same. The X-37B is unmanned, and today saw the first ever successful de-orbit and landing of an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

Built by Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security department, we have often highlighted the novel logistics solutions their products may make possible, this craft was originally shrouded in mystery and had the usual conspiracy theorists desperate to mark it as a super weapon of the future, but time has taken the edge of the critics paranoia and now we could be seeing the first in a whole generation of craft that will carry logistics into a new market.

Paul Rusnock, Boeing vice president of Experimental Systems and programme director for the X-37B stated that the successful landing today marked a new era in space exploration and said he looked forward to a second vehicle launch next year. He feels the revolutionary combination of the very best of aircraft and spacecraft into an affordable, responsive unmanned vehicle will open new frontiers.

Many will scoff at the thought of freight in space as a realistic part of the shipping world but there are plenty of companies emerging who have been prepared to back, what after all, is simply another branch of project forwarding. Take a look at the site of SpaceX, who, less than a fortnight ago, were the first ever commercial company to receive a license to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit.

Currently SpaceX employs over 1,100 people and they use Falcon rockets to send, and now hopefully retrieve, cargo payloads outside the Earths atmosphere, but it’s a short step to buying a ‘one careful owner’ ex USAF or NASA unmanned shuttle craft. The company has vowed to reduce delivery costs off planet by a factor of ten and, after the Space Shuttle retires, the Falcon 9 and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will start carrying cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the International Space Station for NASA.

Other companies sending their own equipment into orbit as carriers for anyone who pays include the Orbital Sciences Corporation which has deployed, or has on order, almost 120 extra terrestrial satellites. How long before some enterprising forwarder starts to negotiate preferential rates and becomes a 3PL provider to the cosmos?

Statistics for the X-37B can be seen HERE.