NASA, DOD Space Programs Need Better Quality Control Says GAO

NASA, DOD Space Programs Need Better Quality Control Says GAO

Space programs at NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) suffer from poor quality control on parts according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report also looked at some of DOD’s missile programs.

GAO found that “…quality problems exist that have endangered entire missions along with less-visible problems leading to unnecessary repair, scrap, rework, and stoppage; long delays; and millions in cost growth.” It reviewed 21 programs at DOD and NASA and quality problems affected all of them, the report states.

The causes of the parts problems included “poor workmanship, undocumented and untested manufacturing processes, poor control of those processes and materials and failure to prevent contamination, poor part design, design complexity, and an inattention to manufacturing risks.”

The 21 programs included nine at DOD and 12 at NASA that had completed their critical design reviews by October 2009. GAO determined that 64.7 percent of the parts quality problem were associated with electronic parts, 14.7 percent with mechanical parts, and 20.6 percent with materials used in manufacturing. The problems were “directly attributed to poor control of manufacturing processes and materials, poor design, and lack of effective supplier management.”

One example GAO highlighted is DOD’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite that is slowly making its way to geostationary orbit (GEO). A failure of its apogee engine left the satellite stranded in a low orbit. The Air Force is using other propulsion systems to raise the orbit to GEO, which is expected to take about a year. The failure was traced to “foreign object debris” — GAO said it was a piece of cloth — inadvertently left in a fuel line. This problem was on top of earlier quality control problems that GAO said cost the AEHF program at least $250 million and contributed to a launch delay of two years.

The programs studied by GAO were the following:

DOD-Air Force

Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellites
Global Positioning System Block IIF
Space-Based Infrared System High Program
Space-Based Space Surveillance Block 10


Mobile User Objective System


Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
Ground-Based Midcourse Defense
Space Tracking and Surveillance System
Targets and Countermeasures


Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory
James Webb Space Telescope
Landsat Data Continuity Mission
Magnetospheric Multiscale
Mars Science Laboratory
National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project
Radiation Belt Storm Probes
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Replenishment

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.