NASA science mission failures due to faulty materials from partner

Pablo Tucker
May 2, 2019

Sapa, which has since changed its name to Hydro Extrusion Portland, agreed to pay $46 million to the US government and other commercial customers - which doesn't even come close to the $700 million NASA lost as a result of Taurus XL failures. He added that years of scientific work were lost because of the fraud.

Sapa Profiles, which now goes by the name Hydro Extrusion Portland, has agreed to pay out over $46 million for their false claims that resulted in mission failures, which is really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the $700 million price tag for the missions.

"It is critical that we are able to trust our industry to produce, test and certify materials in accordance with the standards we require", said Jim Norman, director for Launch Services at NASA Headquarters.

The bad parts were used in the making of Taurus XL, a rocket that was supposed to deliver satellites studying the Earth's climate during missions carried out in 2009 and 2011.

An investigation by NASA has uncovered that one of its former metals manufacturers, Sapa Profiles, falsified test results and provided it with faulty aluminum parts for nearly 20 years. Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division said corporate and personal greed perpetuated this fraud against government and other private customers. "In this case, our trust was severely violated".

According to the findings, the launch vehicle fairing failed to separate on command in both missions, due to the poor quality of the aluminum used in its build. The manufacturer of the Taurus-XL rocket, Orbital Sciences Corporation, had been supplied extruded aluminium for this crucial part by SPI - which, as we now know, had forged the certification. A frangible joint is a structural separation system that is initiated using ordnance. This suspension has been in effect since September 2015.

NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) isolated the malfunction to the aluminium joint materials that had failed to break as part of an investigation of the Taurus XL failures.

NASA relies on the integrity of our industry throughout the supply chain. NASA says SPI was involved in a "19-year scheme that included falsifying thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions". Sapa, now known as Hydro Extrusion Portland Inc., is currently excluded from USA federal government contracting, NASA said in its statement.

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