Thursday, May 9, 2019

Credit: NASA

NASA Investigation Uncovers Cause of Two Mission Launch Failures

NASA’s Taurus XL was due to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) in 2009 and the Glory Mission in 2011. Sadly, both launches met with failures. The investigation into these failures has taken a few years to complete. But on April 30, 2019, NASA finally publicized its findings.

NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) investigation ended up involving NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The cause of the failures was found to result from faulty materials provided by aluminum manufacturer, Sapa Profiles, Inc (SPI). The DOJ’s effort resulted in the resolution of criminal charges and civil claims against SPI, which resulted in an agreement to pay $46million to the US Government and other commercial customers. This stems from uncovering a scheme by SPI that included falsifying thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions to hundreds of customers.

“NASA relies on the integrity of our industry throughout the supply chain. While we do perform our own testing, NASA is not able to retest every single component. That is why we require and pay for certain components to be tested and certified by the supplier,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s Director for Launch Services. “When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail. In our case, the Taurus XLs that failed for the OCO and Glory missions resulted in the loss of more than $700million, and years of people’s scientific work. It is critical that we are able to trust our industry to produce, test, and certify materials in accordance with the standards we require. In this case, our trust was severely violated.”

NASA suspended SPI from government contracting and further proposed SPI for government-wide debarment. This exclusion from government contracting has been in effect since September 2015 and was set up in order to protect the government supply chain. NASA has further proposed debarment for Hydro Extrusion Portland, a company formerly known as SPI.

“Due in large part to the hard work and dedication of many highly motivated people in the NASA Launch Services program, we are able to close out the cause of two extremely disappointing launch vehicle failures and protect the government aerospace supply chain,” said Amanda Mitskevich, LSP Program Manager. “It has taken a long time to get here, involving years of investigation and testing, but as of today, it has been worth every minute, and I am extremely pleased with the entire team’s efforts.”

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