Sapa Profiles / Hydro Extrusion falsified aluminium tensile strength for profit, causes $700m in losses in NASA launches, years of science crashing and burning

The space agency eggheads pointed the finger of blame at the aluminium manufacturer after probing two failed science missions: the February 24, 2009 fruitless launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, and the March 4, 2011 doomed launch of the Glory satellite, designed for monitoring atmospheric pollutants.

In both cases, the rocket fairing, which is the nose cone protecting the satellite payload, failed to separate after liftoff. As a result, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) plunged into the ocean off the Antarctic, and Glory swiftly crashed into the Pacific, after their rockets fell back to Earth, the satellites still attached.

The blunders were traced back to the fairing release mechanism, and specifically the aluminium (or aluminum in Freedom Language) used in this component. It was supplied by Sapa Profiles Inc, of Oregon, USA, now renamed Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc. NASA’s boffins said the metals used were not up to specification, and called in the Feds.

Subsequent checks appeared to show that Sapa had been falsifying its materials testing reports for profit. The metal was supposed to have a particular tensile strength, however, company employees fudged the tests to increase profit margins, investigators said.

Source: NASA fingers the cause of two bungled satellite launches, $700m in losses, years of science crashing and burning… • The Register