NASA Blames Faulty Aluminum for 2 Failed Launches

Glory satellite (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA Launch Services Program (LSP) investigators have determined the technical root cause for the Taurus XL launch failures of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) and Glory missions in 2009 and 2011, respectively: faulty materials provided by aluminum manufacturer, Sapa Profiles, Inc. (SPI).

LSP’s technical investigation led to the involvement of NASA’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ’s efforts, recently made public, resulted in the resolution of criminal charges and alleged civil claims against SPI, and its agreement to pay $46 million to the U.S. government and other commercial customers. This relates to a 19-year scheme that included falsifying thousands of certifications for aluminum extrusions to hundreds of customers.

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Company Blamed for Failed $704 Million NASA Missions Pays $46 Million in Fines

Glory satellite (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An Oregon manufacturer whose defective products NASA alleges caused the launch failures of two climate missions worth $704 million has agreed to pay more than $46 million to the space agency, the Department of Defense (DOD) and others it defrauded.

The Justice Department announced a plea bargain agreement of fraud charges against Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc., formerly known as Sapa Profiles Inc. (SPI), and its corporate parent, Hydro Extrusion USA, LLC, formerly known as Sapa Extrusions Inc. (SEI).

The companies admitted to altering the results of tensile tests “designed to ensure the consistency and reliability of aluminum products it provided to U.S. government contractors and other customers,” the Justice Department said in a press release.

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SpaceX & Orbital ATK Launches Set for Next Week

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

SpaceX and Orbital ATK are scheduled to conduct launches on opposite sides of the country on Monday and Tuesday.

SpaceX will start things off on Monday with the Falcon 9 launch of the Koreasat 5A communications satellite for KTsat. The flight will be conducted from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The launch window is 3:34–5:58 p.m. EDT (1934-2158 GMT). This will be SpaceX’s third launch in October and 16th launch in 2017.

An Orbital ATK Minotaur-C booster is set to launch six SkySat Earth observation satellites for Planet and several CubeSats on Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2:37 p.m. PDT/2137 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Minotaur-C is an upgraded version of the Taurus satellite launcher.

NASA Earth Science Mission Hampered by Budget, Launcher Issues

Earth_from_Orbit
Although NASA’s Earth Science Division is substantially meeting stakeholder’s needs for Earth observation data, the space agency has fallen behind on launching an ambitious series of missions planned out nearly a decade ago, according to an Office of Inspector General (IG) report released last month.

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Orbital ATK’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicles Facing Increased Competition

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.

Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?

Those are all great questions. And now the answers.

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Launch Provider Panel at Space Tech Expo

Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012)
Inaugural Vega flight. (Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja, 2012)

At the Space Tech Expo last week in Long Beach, Calif., representatives from Arianespace, Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) discussed the fierce competition in the industry and their plans for the future.

PANELISTS

Carissa Christensen
Managing Partner
The Tauri Group
(Moderator)

Gwynne Shotwell
President & Chief Operating Officer
SpaceX

Daniel J Collins
Chief Operating Officer
United Launch Alliance

Clay Mowry
President
Arianespace

Frank Culbertson
Executive Vice President
Orbital Sciences Corporation

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U.S. Launch Companies at Crossroads in 2014

Cygnus is released from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Cygnus is released from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Part 2 of 2

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: In Part 1, we took a look at the highly successful year that all three U.S. launch providers had in 2013.  Today, we will look at the challenges ahead for each company.

Coming off a stellar year, each of America’s three launch providers — Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) — finds itself in a distinctly different place and facing unique challenges. The coming year could begin to significantly remake the global launch market, with significant consequences for all three players and rival providers overseas.

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A Closer Look at Orbital Sciences’ Stable of Launch Vehicles

Antares_first_launch
Continuing our look at U.S. launch vehicles, we turn our spotlight onto Orbital Sciences Corporation.  Although the Virginia company is traditionally a supplier of small launch vehicles, it recently made the leap to medium-lift rockets.

Orbital currently operates four launch vehicles:

  • Pegasus, an air-launched solid-fuel vehicle for small satellites;
  • Taurus, a land-based variant of the Pegasus booster with a decommissioned Peacekeeper ballistic missile used as the first stage;
  • Minotaur, a family of small solid-fuel launchers that uses a mixture of decommissioned Peacekeeper and Minuteman II ballistic missile stages and Pegasus and Taurus technology; and,
  • Antares, a new medium-class, liquid-fuel booster developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that will launch Cygnus freighters to the International Space Station.

The company also is developing a new air-launched rocket nicknamed Pegasus II for Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems company. This new medium launch vehicle is set to make its debut flight in 2016.

Let’s now take a closer look at Orbital’s programs. The launch history tables below are adapted from Wikipedia.

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Orbital to Launch NASA Satellites

ORBITAL SCIENCES PRESS RELEASE

Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world’s leading space technology companies, today announced it has received two separate orders from NASA to launch scientific satellites on its industry-leading small rockets, Pegasus® XL and Taurus® XL. These contracts bring the total Pegasus and Taurus orders to 55 vehicles since the first Pegasus was purchased in 1988. Taken together, the two rockets have launched or will boost a total of 35 NASA scientific and technology demonstration spacecraft on 30 missions since 1990.

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A Bad Day for NASA, Orbital Sciences and the Climate

NASA global warming satellite crashes after launch
Associated Press

A NASA mission to monitor global warming from space ended Tuesday when a satellite plunged into the ocean near Antarctica minutes after launch. An equipment malfunction was apparently to blame, officials said. The loss of the $280 million mission came a month after Japan launched the world’s first spacecraft to track global warming emissions.

The failure dealt a blow to NASA, which had hoped to send up its own satellite to measure carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas behind human-caused global warming.

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Mid-Atlantic Spaceport Overhauled for OSC’s New Taurus Rocket

Spaceport to Get a Facelift
The Daily Times

Infrastructure improvements are under way at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in preparation for Orbital Sciences Corp.’s planned demonstration flight in late 2010 of a new rocket system designed to supply cargo to the International Space Station.

“We’re beginning the process of developing the infrastructure at the launch site,” Orbital Sciences Vice President of Public Relations Barron Beneski said recently. Beneski said the project is still in its early stages, but with a launch set for late 2010, it is anticipated all improvements should be in place by early fall that year.

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