NASA uncovers cause of two science mission launch failures

June 1st, 2019

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’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.

NASA’s updated public summary of the launch failures, which was published May 1, comes after a multiyear technical investigation by LSP and updates the previous public summaries on the Taurus XL launch failures for the OCO and Glory missions. 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.

TEST RESULTS ALTERED
From NASA’s investigation, it is now known that SPI altered test results and provided false certifications to Orbital Sciences Corporation, the manufacturer of the Taurus XL, regarding the aluminum extrusions used in the payload fairing rail frangible joint, the space agency said. A frangible joint is a structural separation system that is initiated using ordnance.

“NASA relies on the integrity of our industry throughout the supply chain. While we do perform our own testing, NASA is not able to retest every single component. That is why we require and pay for certain components to be tested and certified by the supplier,” said Jim Norman, NASA’s director for Launch Services.

“When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail. In our case, the Taurus XLs that failed for the OCO and Glory missions resulted in the loss of more than $700 million, and years of people’s scientific work. It is critical that we are able to trust our industry to produce, test and certify materials in accordance with the standards we require. In this case, our trust was severely violated.”

SPI SUSPENDED
To protect the government supply chain, NASA suspended SPI from government contracting and proposed SPI for government-wide debarment. The exclusion from government contracting has been in effect since Sept. 30, 2015. NASA also has proposed debarment for Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc., formerly known as SPI, and the company currently is excluded from contracting throughout the federal government.

“Due in large part to the hard work and dedication of many highly motivated people in NASA Launch Services, we are able to close out the cause of two extremely disappointing launch vehicle failures and protect the government aerospace supply chain,” said Amanda Mitskevich, LSP program manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “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.”

Apollo 7: The race heats up

November 1st, 2018

The Apollo 7 prime crew, from left to right, are astronauts Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot, Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; and Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot. Photo: NASA

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

On Oct. 11, 1968, three American astronauts launched to Earth orbit aboard Apollo 7. It was the first piloted mission of the spacecraft designed to meet President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the lunar surface.

The 11-day flight took place as the race to the Moon was heating up between the United States and the Soviet Union. A month earlier, the Soviets launched the unpiloted Zond 5, a simplified version of their Soyuz spacecraft designed for cosmonauts. The capsule became the first to circle around the Moon and return safely to Earth.

Both nations also were recovering from tragic losses. Three Apollo 1 astronauts perished in a launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. That same year, the lone cosmonaut aboard Soyuz 1 died when the spacecraft crashed on April 24.

Following almost two years of Apollo spacecraft redesign and testing, Paul Donnelly, Launch Operations manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, expressed confidence in the men and women who worked tirelessly to prepare for the flight.

“We have a great group of specialists from government and industry trained to work as a team,” he said. “Just as the astronauts are ready to fly to orbit, we are ready to get them there.”

COMMANDER
Serving as commander of Apollo 7 was NASA veteran Wally Schirra, a U.S. Navy aviator and captain. He flew Mercury 8 on Oct. 3, 1962, and commanded Gemini VI on Dec. 15-16, 1965.

Schirra was joined by two members of the third astronaut class, both making their first spaceflight.

Command module pilot Donn Eisele was a U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot. Walt Cunningham had been a colonel and fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Although there was no lunar module on this flight, as the third member of the crew, Cunningham was designated LM pilot.

Following a flawless liftoff atop a Saturn 1B rocket from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) Air Force Station, the command-service module (CSM) separated from the second stage. Eisele then practiced a simulated LM docking. During launch with a LM, it would have been housed inside the adapter between the second stage and the CSM.

KEY OBJECTIVE
A key objective of Apollo 7 was testing spacecraft systems, especially the crucial service propulsion system (SPS) engine at the base of the spacecraft. On lunar missions, the SPS would be used to place the spacecraft in lunar orbit and later, fire the crew on a trajectory back home. On Earth orbital flights, the SPS would be fired to slow Apollo for reentry.

The first test of the powerful SPS took place on flight day two. When it fired with 20,500 pounds of thrust, Schirra radioed that it was a real kick.
“Yabbadabbadoo,” he exclaimed in a favorite saying of the television cartoon character Fred Flintstone. “That’s like a ride and a half!”

George Low, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston, later noted that all eight firings of the SPS went extremely well.

“We had a tremendous workout of the service propulsion system,” he said. “I believe that is more than any space propulsion system has ever been used in any one flight”

WORLD WATCHES
Another goal was broadcasting live television from the spacecraft. Three days after liftoff, the Apollo 7 camera was turned on, allowing Mission Control and viewers around the world to watch the crew in orbit.

“I can see Eisele there,” said spacecraft communicator Tom Stafford, a fellow astronaut. “He’s holding a sign and it says, ‘From the lovely Apollo room, high atop everything.’ “

The crew fired the SPS engine on Oct. 22, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean eight miles from the recovery aircraft carrier, the USS Essex.
After the flight, Schirra described the Apollo CSM as “a magnificent flying machine.”

Lt. Gen. Samuel Phillips, director of NASA’s Apollo Program Office, considered Apollo 7 a perfect mission.

“We were able to accomplish a major step in our progress toward the lunar landing,” he said. “I have every confidence that the progress of this mission will let us accomplish that by the end of next year.”

NASA astronauts induction into Hall of Fame on NASA TV live May 19

May 18th, 2017

Two NASA astronauts, both with one-of-a-kind career credits, will be honored Friday, May 19, when they are inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The ceremony will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website at 1 p.m. EDT.

Bob Cabana, 2008 hall of famer and current director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will speak at the induction ceremony about the distinguished careers of honorees Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go into space and current director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and former astronaut Michael Foale, the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station and Russian space station Mir.

The ceremony will be held at the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

Ochoa was selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1990. A veteran of four flights, she logged more than 978 hours in space, serving as mission specialist on space shuttle mission STS-56, payload commander on STS-66, and both flight engineer and mission specialist on STS-96 and STS-110. She has received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest award.

Foale was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1987. A veteran of six missions, he logged more than 374 days in space and four spacewalks totaling almost 23 hours, including a spacewalk to perform repairs and upgrades to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. He also is the only American citizen to have served on both Mir and the International Space Station. Foale retired from NASA in 2013.

For NASA TV schedules and links to streaming video, visit: NASA Television | NASA