Metals fraud leads to $700 million satellite failure

Posted May 2, 2019 by Tim Sandle
NASA is blaming a serious case of metals fraud on a $700 million satellite failure, linked to two aborted satellite missions. This is based on an investigation undertaken by the U.S. space agency.
Ares 1-x Rocket
File photo: NASA's Ares I-X rocket awaits the launch on Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
NASA/Bill Ingalls
The NASA investigation has revealed how a metals manufacturer faked some test results, and the metals were provided to NASA for a satellite build projects. The outcome of this act of subterfuge was to cause $700 million in losses and two failed satellite launch missions.
The alleged falsification of test documentation relates to an Oregon based company called Sapa Profiles Inc. The company has been found to have falsified thousands of certifications for aluminium parts across a 19 year period. This is apparently for dozens of customers, not only NASA.
The consequence of the faulty part was that the metal was used as part of the Taurus XL rocket. The rocket was designed to deliver two satellites that could be used to assess the Earth’s climate (satellites named Orbiting Carbon Observatory and Glory). The on launch, rocket failed because a clamshell structure designed to hold the satellite did not fully open. This happened on two occasions, dating back to 2009 and 2011.
It has taken NASA almost eight years to investigate why the failures happened. After centering on the company, the manufacturer Sapa Profiles Inc. (SPI) eventually admitted that it had falsified quality control test results for its products. The company's statement runs: "Specifically, we have learned that some test results for mechanical properties – ultimate tensile strength, yield strength and elongation – have been altered to change failing test results to passing test results between 1996 and 2015." It appears SPI employees falsified at least 4,100 documents between 1996 and 2015.
Commenting on the investigaiton oucome, manda Mitskevich, LSP program manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida states: "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."
As a consequence of the investigation, NASA has suspended SPI from government contracting and has additionally proposed debarring the company permanently.