As the COVID-19 cases rise all around the world due to the Delta variant, liquid oxygen (LOX), which is used by hospitals to treat patients, is in short supply. LOX is becoming difficult to come by as demand grows, and COVID-19 sufferers may not be the only ones affected.
Indeed, upcoming launches might as well be affected, as pointed out by SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell during the 36th annual Space Symposium on Tuesday, August 24. Many launch providers rely on LOX to get rockets off the ground since it serves as an oxidizer in combination with fuels such as liquid hydrogen, kerosene, and methane. This is why securing supplies of liquid oxygen is currently one of the most pressing supply chain concerns.
"We’re actually going to be impacted this year with the lack of liquid oxygen for launch,” Shotwell said. “We certainly are going to make sure the hospitals are going to have the oxygen that they need, but for anybody who has liquid oxygen to spare, send me an email.”
Shotwell did not elaborate on the potential impact of the LOX shortage on SpaceX's upcoming launch schedule, but the LOX is not the only shorage that's affecting the company. SpaceX has already put Starlink internet satellite launches on hold since its last launch on June 30, which is an unusually long hiatus for the company. According to Shotwell, the worldwide microchip shortage delayed the new user terminals for the company's Starlink satellite, but she expects the next Starlink launch to happen in "roughly three weeks."
The LOX scarcity is impacting other companies as well. Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, stated in a tweet following the conference that the federal contractor that provides nitrogen for the company's launch facilities at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California is now trying to address the liquid oxygen shortfall in Florida.
On the other hand, in Florida, on Aug. 20, the Orlando Utilities Commission announced a 50% reduction in the weekly deliveries of liquid oxygen used in water purification systems. Officials urged local residents and businesses to save water in order to avert water shortages caused by the city's purification systems' limited capacity.