NASA Wasted 700 Million Dollars in Rockets and Equipment Due to Fraudulent Suppliers

A new report finds aluminium extrusion manufacturer Sapa Profiles, Inc. responsible for the demise of two rockets.

NASA says they wasted 700 million dollars due to fraudulent suppliers. Two 92-foot Taurus rockets and the climate monitoring satellites they were carrying failed in their missions in 2009 and 2011 due to falsified data about their frangible joints.

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NASA released its Launch Services Program (LSP) report on April 30 which details how the agency has determined that Oregon aluminum extrusion manufacturer Sapa Profiles, Inc. (SPI) had created false test results, swapped test results and alternated testing conditions to produce positive results.

The company shipped poorly made parts to its clients including Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK), the manufacturer of Taurus rockets. NASA says that due to this shoddy manufacturing from SAPA the nosecones of the rockets which were carrying the climate measuring equipment the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and Glory satellites failed to fall off as designed due to SPI’s joints surviving explosive charges.

The rockets then crashed into the ocean.

The report states that the loss of both rockets and equipment cost more than $700,000,000.

The report is clear on the cause

“On February 24, 2009, a Taurus XL rocket (Taurus T8) carrying NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite failed to reach orbit. The Taurus T8 mission failed because the payload fairing did not separate during ascent, causing the rocket to not shed weight. As a result of the extra weight, the Taurus rocket failed to reach orbital velocity, resulting in a total loss of the mission. On March 4, 2011, another Taurus rocket (Taurus T9) carrying NASA’s Glory scientific satellite failed to reach orbit. The Taurus T9 mission also concluded in a failure of the payload fairing to separate.The Taurus T8 and T9 missions both reentered earth’s atmosphere resulting in break-up and/or burnup of the rocket and satellite, and any surviving pieces would have been dispersed in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica,” the report states.

Need for trust

NASA says they do not have the resources to retest everything from external manufacturers. “NASA relies on the integrity of our industry throughout the supply chain,” NASA director for Launch Services Jim Norman said in a separate statement.

“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. When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail.”

NASA alerted the Department of Justice to its findings. a press release from the department says that SPI’s parent company Norsk Hydro ASA has agreed to pay $46 million to NASA, the Department of Defense, and other entities to “resolve criminal charges and civil claims relating to a 19-year fraud scheme that included falsifying thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions provided to hundreds of customers.”

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The Department of Justice believes the company was able to conceal its poor manufacturing practices by paying staff production-based bonuses. NASA says the company and other related business have been banned from government contracts. A replacement to the lost Orbiting Carbon Observatory was launched in 2014, but the Glory did not receive a replacement.

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