RFID... in Space

Check out how NASA uses RFID to track assets, tools, and equipment.

How NASA Uses RFID for Asset Tracking and Inventory Management

From warehouses, distribution centers, to nuclear power plants, retail centers, and even in the ocean, the flexibility and dependability of RFID technology has been utilized just about everywhere. Problem solvers often look to RFID to receive information in order to track inventory, locate assets or equipment, and monitor the safety or status of employees.

Those objectives are helpful in just about any industry, and in any environment – even in space!

NASA’s lofty goals of space travel and exploration are, of course, not without tremendous hurdles. One major challenge is how to ensure equipment and tools are properly managed when stations have limited crew – or no crew at all. To track assets and equipment in such a tough environment, NASA uses RFID technology so important items never get lost in space.

NASA’s RFID research project known as REALM (RFID Enabled Autonomous Logistics Management) was first deployed in early 2017 on the ISS (International Space Station). The project was launched with a desire to improve inventory management for flight applications. NASA’s operations are often long in duration, so making sure missions have the right amount of equipment is incredibly important. The loss or depletion of certain inventory can lead to a disaster.

With about 4,000 cubic feet of storage space, the ISS has over 100,000 onboard. With RFID, NASA has reported an improvement in item visibility and operational awareness. Without RFID, astronauts would take around 30 minutes looking for lost or misplaced items. With REALM deployed, items are found in a quicker, more reliable fashion. Dozens of assets that could not be found by normal physical searches have been located. NASA researches expect the trend to continue and improve.

Though REALM was launched in 2018, NASA has been utilizing RFID for many years. As early as 2008 NASA was investigating RFID technology as a replacement for their barcode readers and system. Via NASA.gov, “The handheld RFID reader was the first step toward a crew-free inventory management system for later space vehicles.” RFID looks to be a big part of NASA’s future as the agency plans to deploy a RFID reading robot (REALM 2) and an intelligent storage system (REALM 3).

When looking to locate assets, equipment, inventory, and employees, whether in space or your warehouse, an RFID based tracking system is the solution.