NASA Was Swindled Out Of $1 Billion In Aluminum Scam

NASA has announced that fraudulent, poor-quality aluminium sold to the space agency resulted in the failure of two major satellite missions and amounted to a $US700 million ($AU 1 billion) loss.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) in 2009 and the Glory mission in 2011, which were intended to launch observational satellites, both failed at launch and were unable to reach orbit.

After initial investigations, no technical problems were identified except that the launch vehicle fairing (the clam-like shell that protects rockets at launch) had simply failed to separate.

A new NASA investigation has now determined that the multi-million dollar failings were the result of aluminium fraudulently sold to the agency by a manufacturer called Sapa Profiles, Inc (SPI).

OCO 2 NASA launch. Source: Getty.

SPI, a Norwegian company, has been fined $US46 million ($AU 65 million) after pleading guilty to the fraud charges.

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Jim Norman, NASA's director for Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington, expressed his immense disappointment with the scam.

"While we do perform our own testing, NASA is not able to retest every single component...When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail," Norman said.

Norman noted that the fraud had resulted not only in financial loss but in "years of people's scientific work" and said their trust in the industry was "severely violated".

Satellite. Source: Getty.

A joint effort between NASA and the US Department of Justice found that SPI had been falsifying thousands of test certifications for aluminium for almost two decades. Equipment used by the US military has also been created using the faulty SPI aluminium.

The investigation uncovered in 2017 that a former lab supervisor in SPI's Portland factory had been falsifying the aluminium quality test results and instructing his employees to follow his lead. The former supervisor is currently serving a three-year prison sentence.

According to the court documents, former employees began "dreading" the practice of being asked to "fake tests, pass failing material or enter fake data".

The aluminium manufacturer, now known as Hydro Extrusion Portland Inc. is now barred from contracting through US federal government agencies.