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NASA Says Aluminum Fraud Caused $700 Million Satellite Failures

May 1, 2019
Norsk Hydro unit supplied faulty materials: investigation

Faulty materials supplied by a unit of Norsk Hydro ASA, one of the world’s top aluminum producers, led to more than $700 million of losses in two failed NASA satellite launch missions, according to an investigation by the space agency.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission in 2009 and Glory mission in 2011 didn’t reach orbit and broke-up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere after payloads failed to separate from Taurus XL rockets. Aluminum producer Sapa Profiles Inc. had altered test results and provided false certifications to the rocket’s manufacturer relating to extrusions used in a key component for the payload delivery system, NASA said in a statement.

“When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail,” Jim Norman, director for Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in the statement. “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.” Both missions were intended to launch monitoring instruments related to climate science.

Oslo-based Norsk Hydro didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment outside usual office hours. The producer confirmed in an annual report published in March that it had agreed to resolve Department of Justice investigations related to the unit.

Norsk Hydro agreed to pay $46 million to NASA, the Department of Defense and others to resolve criminal charges and civil claims related to a 19-year fraud, the justice department said in an April 23 statement. Sapa, now known as Hydro Extrusion Portland Inc., is currently excluded from U.S. federal government contracting, NASA said in its statement.

By David Stringer

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