GAO Gives NASA Good Marks for ISS Spares Planning

GAO Gives NASA Good Marks for ISS Spares Planning

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) generally gave NASA good marks in a report released today for its planning for spare parts to enable the International Space Station to continue operating at least until 2020.

The only caveat GAO offered is that NASA needs to continually assess its needs as it gains more experience with ISS operations over the next decade.

The report says:

“NASA’s approach to determining, obtaining, and delivering necessary spare parts to the ISS is reasonable to ensure continued utilization of the station through 2020. The statistical process and methodology being used to determine the expected lifetimes of replacement units is a sound and commonly accepted approach within the risk assessment community that considers both manufacturers’ predictions and the systems’ actual performance. To date NASA has given equal weight to manufacturers’ predictions and actual performance, and currently has no plans to reassess this decision. However, as time goes on, the resulting estimates could prove to be overly conservative, given that NASA has found failure rates for replacement units to be lower than manufacturers’ predictions. Therefore, continuing to weigh the manufacturers’ predictions equally with actual performance could lead NASA to purchase an excess of spares. NASA also has a reasonable process for establishing performance goals for various functions necessary for utilization and determining whether available spares are sufficient to meet goals through 2020, but the rationale supporting these decisions has not been systematically documented.

“NASA is also using reasonable analytical tools to assess structural health and determine whether ISS hardware can operate safely through 2020. On the basis of prior analysis of structural life usage through 2015 and the robust design of the ISS structures, NASA currently anticipates that—with some mitigation—the ISS will remain structurally sound for continued operations through 2020. NASA also is using reasonable methodologies, governed by agency directives and informed by NASA program experts, to assess safe operations of the ISS as a whole as well as identify replacement units and other hardware, failure of which could result in an increased risk of loss of station or loss of crew through 2020. NASA plans to develop, through 2015, methods to mitigate issues identified and expects to begin implementing corrective actions as plans are put in place.”

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