NASA Investigation Uncovers Cause of Two Science Mission Launch Failures

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The space agency wasn't the only client that lost out from this fraudulent activity, but it could be the one that was most damaged by it: NASA used Sapa's parts in the making of Taurus XL, a rocket that was used in two missions in 2009 and 2011. Two years later, the same problem destroyed NASA's Glory scientific satellite, also launched onboard a Taurus XL vehicle. Test results revealing that aluminium parts failed to meet tensile strength requirements were altered so that they showed the parts passing certification.

After a multi-year technical investigation, NASA's Launch Services Program has revealed that SPI had been falsifying the results of its tensile tests, created to ensure the consistency and reliability of the aluminium it extruded.

A new NASA investigation has now determined that the multi-million dollar failings were the result of aluminium fraudulently sold to the agency by a manufacturer called Sapa Profiles, Inc (SPI). "In this case, our trust was severely violated". Those public summaries concluded that the launch vehicle fairing a clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere failed to separate on command, but no technical root cause had been identified.

"Corporate and personal greed perpetuated this fraud against the government and other private customers, and this resolution holds these companies accountable for the harm caused by their scheme", said Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general of the criminal division at the Department of Justice, in an April 23 statement. This suspension has been in effect since September 2015.

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. Sapa, now known as Hydro Extrusion Portland Inc., is currently excluded from US federal government contracting, NASA said in its statement.

Jim Norman, NASA's director for Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington, expressed his huge disappointment with the scam.

NASA no longer uses the supplier as a government contractor and proposed the company be banned government-wide.

SPI has agreed to pay $46 million to the USA 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.

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