Another Problem for MSL?

Another Problem for MSL?

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission could suffer additional cost increases due to concerns over the integrity of the titanium used in the structure of the spacecraft, reported last week.

The website reported that NASA officials told the Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council that there was a need to check the integrity of the metal used in the spacecraft due to concerns over “counterfeit” titanium – meaning it has not been subjected to the appropriate rigorous testing – a process that could add more cost to the already over-budget mission. The subcommittee met on October 16.

The MSL spacecraft is mostly built with titanium components, which makes it even harder to determine the amount and exact location of what Doug McCuistion, Director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, called the “improperly treated non-conforming titanium” according to Dr. McCuistion was further quoted as saying that the process of identification will take officials between one and two months: “we have to do some testing to determine what the risk of this material not being conforming is, whether it can still handle the pressures and the temperatures, whether it has the lifetime characteristics, whether it has the strength.” If found to be unsuitable to the mission requirements, replacement parts would need to be ordered, further delaying and increasing the costs of the mission.

The titanium reportedly was provided by Western Titanium Inc., a San Diego-based company that was indicted last December on fraud charges that include issuing false certifications on the quality of the titanium provided.

This incident recalls an issue raised earlier this year at a House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing by then acting NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese. When asked about the sources of cost overruns in NASA missions, Scolese mentioned a variety of reasons, including that spacecraft sometimes contain counterfeit parts: “you find out about it when you’re in tests, or you find out about it when you’re sitting on top of the rocket, or worse, you find about it when you’re in space. And all of those have cost implications.” (minute 45:28 of the hearing webcast)

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