Milano, May 30th 2020

Rockets and spacecrafts – like any other highly engineered system – are made of thousands of parts, components, equipment and sub-systems. Many are intuitive for non-specialist (e.g. wires, connectors, air management system, …) while others are very industry specific (e.g. rocket engines, thrusters, control systems, …).

Cost reduction and supply chain management have always been key strategic pillars at SpaceX.
In fact, its success comes also from over 3.000 suppliers combined with a high degree of vertical integration.

When in 2002, SpaceX entered as a start-up a business characterized by a very reduced number of potential suppliers for each specific component, SpaceX decided:

  1. to internalize several phases with in-house manufacturing in order not to heavily rely on sub-contractors and on multiple layers of integration but rather have full control on the critical phases and schedule. In fact, SpaceX builds its rocket engines, rocket stages, spacecraft, principal avionics and all software in-house in their Hawthorne (Los Angeles, California) facility, which is unusual for the aerospace industry.

  2. to scout for non-aerospace suppliers and to support them in entering the aerospace business. They scouted for companies that make products similar to what they needed, but not for the space market. SpaceX then collaboratively worked with that supplier to create a space rated version of their component. Moreover, key components are natively designed for the reusable launch system’s approach by SpaceX.

Like in every supply chain, some issues have been managed in the last years: for example, in 2019, investigators charged a SpaceX supplier for forging signatures on at least 38 inspection reports and non-destructive testing (NDT) certifications for parts meant for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Authorities found at least 76 parts that were rejected or not inspected but shipped to SpaceX anyway, affecting up to 10 missions.

The result of 30/05/2020’s historic launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket is also a success story for all the suppliers involved in the program and for how SpaceX has been able to  be innovative also in its supply chain approach. This is surely something easy to replicate in other industries, rather than sending a missile to the space!