NASA’s OIG Report on Orbital Antares Failure

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NASA’s Office of Inspector General has released a report regarding the agency’s response to Orbital Sciences’ October 28th, 2014 failure of an Antares booster launching the Orb-3 ISS re-supply mission. The full report can be found here, and is an interesting read. Like most NASA OIG reports,  it is clearly written and contains a great deal of informative background information which is useful outside the context of the report itself. In this case, the basic findings are not all that surprising. Essentially, NASA has taken a fairly soft approach with now Orbital ATK, and not pursued harder edged negotiations when they were contractually allowable.

Orbital’s Return to Flight Plan contains technical and operational risks and may be difficult to execute as designed and on the timetable proposed. First, although the Atlas V has a strong flight record and is a suitable rocket for Orbital missions, the company will be integrating its Cygnus capsule with the Atlas rocket for the first time. Second, Orbital must accelerate development of its modified Antares launch system, refitting it with new engines for two planned launches in 2016. This tight schedule does not include a test flight for the modified system and provides limited opportunities for qualification and certification testing. Third, although NASA has increased monitoring of Orbital’s milestone plan and RD-181 engine testing for the modified Antares, the Agency has not conducted detailed technical assessments of the modified system and the associated qualification testing results. Finally, we believe Orbital’s plan to drop one of its scheduled resupply flights may disadvantage NASA by decreasing the Agency’s flexibility in choosing the type and size of cargo the company transports to the ISS.”

Expect a subsequent audit being conducted regarding the SpaceX CRS-7 launch failure to reach similar conclusions.

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