Tremendous Opportunity Ahead with Space Cargo

(Americas Digital Special) Spaceflight’s Ben Martin talks about satellite logistics

Meet Ben Martin who is the logistics and inventory manager for Spaceflight, a ride sharing provider for satellites and mission management company based in Seattle, Washington. Spaceflight works with aerospace companies including SpaceX and Rocket Lab to reserve space on their rockets to carry a variety of satellites from Spaceflight customers into orbit. Ben will join the upcoming panel “A New Challenge: Space Cargo Logistics,” part of Breakbulk Americas: The Digital Special on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

Here’s a guy whose enthusiasm for space found an outlet in a challenging career in logistics. “It's never a dull day,” Ben told me during an interview. “I get to deal with a lot of aspects of logistics that don't exist in many logistics positions. Plus, I get to touch on air and ground transport, different regulations, and work with freight forwarders.”

Spaceflight provides end-to-end services, including everything from licensing to delivery to the launch site. The company partners with launch providers around the world where missions take place in New Zealand, South America, India and right here in the U.S. at Cape Canaveral in Florida. I asked Ben about his most memorable moment over his last 22 months with Spaceflight.

“Last year I delivered a cargo to New Zealand for a mission on Rocket Lab. I had to travel with the cargo on a large Boeing 747 freighter. While the plane is designed mostly to secure cargo, there was an area up above for the crew where there were some first-class seats. It was more comfortable than I anticipated!”

Pandemic impact on the business

Few if any companies across the industrial sector have not felt the effects of the pandemic on the supply chain, and Spaceflight was no exception. “Everyone in logistics knows that air volumes are down significantly,” Ben said.  I think the last figure I heard was that in Europe it’s 20 percent of what it was pre-pandemic. That has definitely had an impact on our availability.”

In response to these fluctuations, Ben said that he either upgrades the service level or add a little bit more time for potential and unexpected delays. “But in terms of our ability to ship and deliver those cargoes to their launch locations, there has not been any significant impact beyond reduced capacities on the flights,” he said. “Many passenger aircrafts are now being modified to carry cargo, so we're starting to see more availability.”

Unlike most earthbound cargo, satellites entail special considerations because of their high-value and sensitive components, but much of the logistics involved for satellite transports are similar to typical cargoes.

“There's a lot that that goes into shipping a satellite, particularly when you're shipping internationally,” Ben said. “But if we start on the domestic side there, there's really not a lot of difference.” He mentioned specific packaging, labeling and documentation, particularly around the batteries which are categorized as dangerous goods and fall under strict government regulations, as well as trade compliance for both outbound and inbound international transports. Satellites are very dense in terms of its value to the size of the package, so maintaining security is critical in the planning and throughout the move.

Close ties with forwarders and specialty providers

Because Spaceflight is a lean company, Ben relies on a variety of service providers in every mission. “We're a small team, but we're big in nature, so the way we take care of that is through partnerships,” he said. The types of vendors he partners with include freight forwarders, trade compliance specialists, dangerous goods compliance companies.
“I've purposely partnered with leading international forwarders because they have offices in many different countries,” he said. “This allows me to have quick responses and remain tremendously flexible.”

Industry outlook for Spaceflight

When it comes to Spaceflight’s core competency in handling smaller satellites ranging from 10- to 100 kilograms or “bread and butter” as Ben put it, the sector is “exploding.” The cost of technology has dropped significantly so more companies are getting involved in launching satellites to gather data from space.

“Our mission is to get multiple customers on a single launch and that that is growing tremendously,” Ben said. “We're confident we're in the right space to support that.”

Learn more about logistics opportunities from Ben by reserving your spot at the space cargo logistics webinar.
Watch the full interview with Ben Martin

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