NASA science mission failures due to faulty materials from partner

NASA has announced that its investigators have determined the technical root cause for the Taurus XL launch failures that resulted in the loss of the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the Glory mission in 2009 and 2011 respectively. The root cause was determined to be faulty material provided by aluminum manufacturer Sapa Profiels Inc. (SPI).

The NASA Launch Services Platform investigation led to the involvement of the NASA Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ investigation recently resulted in the resolution of criminal charges and alleged civil claims against SPI.

SPI has agreed to pay $46 million to the U.S. government and other commercial customers as settlement for a 19-year scheme that included the falsifying of thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions that were sent to hundreds of customers. The investigation determined that the failure of the two NASA launches had to do with the launch vehicle faring failing to separate on command.

No root technical cause has been identified at this time. The investigation found that SPI altered test results and provided false certifications for an aluminum fairing rail frangible joint. That frangible joint is a structural separation system that is initiated using ordinance. NASA has suspended SPI from government contracting and proposed SPI for government-wide debarment.

The exclusion from government contracting has been in effect since September 20, 2015. NASA has also proposed the Hydro Extrusion Portlant Inc., formerly known as SPI, be debarred as well. NASA notes that it relies on the integrity of the industry in its supply chain pointing out that it can't perform its own testing on every single component and requires and pays for some parts to be certified through the manufacturer.