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The United Launch Alliance provides launch services for military, scientific and commercial space payloads. Houser says there are a number of unique challenges surrounding that sector. The military market is on the downturn, having launched most of its backlog of equipment. At the same time, the commercial sector is on the upswing, and there are new opportunities for human launch services, he says.
As with any business that deals in high-value, low-volume items, the build-to-order model is an important element. That presents a challenge on the procurement side, with manufacturers struggling to have the right material on hand at the right time. What’s more, product specifications are extremely exacting. “From a supply-chain perspective, it’s not easy to source,” says Houser. “Nothing is off the shelf.”
Certain sourcing restrictions in Europe and Asia present yet another obstacle. But ULA has a large number of customers on the non-military side, including communications satellites, TV transmitters and scientific missions.
The opportunity to move into human launch services is “very exciting,” says Houser. “It will present a whole other range of supply-chain challenges.” The stringency of parts quality and pedigree requirements will likely increase.
A strong engineering background is required to ensure quality control, says Houser. In addition to specs submitted to suppliers of parts and raw materials, ULA maintains rigorous internal inspection programs.
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