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Is there a quality control problem at Northrop Grumman?



NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Photo: JWST

Last week's news corroborated by government investigators SpaceX was not to blame for the failure of the top-secret Zuma mission in January. Instead, officials point their finger directly at the manufacturer Northrop Grumman The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported. The Unveiling Comes Less Than Two Weeks NASA delayed the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and admitted in part the lack of working time to work accidents during Northrop Grumman's integration process.

These successive slips could point to a major problem within the company, which has enjoyed a barrage of heavy defense contracts for years as one of the US government's partners. Undoubtedly, customers wonder: if Northrop Grumman does not think too much about quality control, how hard is the problem? And how does the company intend to remedy this?

When the mysterious Zuma payload did not get into orbit earlier this year, launch carrier SpaceX quickly broke away. "Falcon 9 has done everything right," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell immediately after the incident. The US Air Force seemed to agree: at the end of January, Lt. General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile System Center, told Bloomberg News that SpaceX was not in danger of losing its certification status to military missions in the future. As a result, the crosshair shifted to Northrop Grumman, which built not only the Zuma satellite itself, but also a customized payload adapter that connected it to Falcon 9.

There is little public information about Zuma's purpose, and no government agency has filed a claim. Northrop Grumman was also unwilling to speak publicly, citing the high secrecy of the mission. What is now known ̵

1; at least according to WSJ's anonymous sources – is that the mission's failure was due to a malfunction of the payload adapter.

The adapter, which Northrop Grumman bought from a subcontractor before he modified and tested it three times, could not solve the payload of the Falcon 9 at the right time. As a result, the satellite fell back to Earth along with the second stage of the rocket, eventually collapsing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The mission was written off as a total loss.

At the end of March, NASA announced another delay for its next-generation James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Originally scheduled to go into orbit in October of this year, NASA was forced to postpone JWST's start date to June 2019 and then back to May 2020.

A February Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that Northrop Grumman workers inadvertently contaminated the thruster modules of the propulsion system with the wrong cleaning solvent, resulting in the component leaking beyond acceptable levels. Northrop Grumman also discovered several cracks in the spacecraft's solar panel, attributing a "processing error" to those responsible for the program.

"Project officials expressed concern about Northrop Grumman

's ability to prevent further erosion of the timeline and test work," the GAO report said. Overall, these technical problems have covered the project by an average of two and a half months a year, and the total cost is also very close to the $ 8 billion limit set by Congress in 2011.

According to NASA's JWST program, officials have increasingly monitored the Northrop Grumman integration and testing efforts due to these failures. The agency also set up an external panel of examiners, chaired by Tom Young, the former Lockheed Martin employee, to oversee the project's progress and see if it can meet its newly revised startup schedule.

For Northrop Grumman According to WSJ, the company has significantly changed its satellite production. The revisions include better training and more detailed quality controls, but cost at least $ 200 million in additional staffing costs

The broader implications of these cost overruns and delays remain to be seen – NASA will not introduce the Examining Board Rating until Congress by the end of June. But there are already concerns about government funding for future NASA observatories. In its full-year 2019 budget proposal, the Trump administration proposed cutting funding for the JWST's successor, the WFIRST (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope), and instead use the money to study the Moon and Mars. It's not surprising that some Democratic lawmakers have expressed resistance: "The government's budget for NASA is a non-starter," US Senator Bill Nelson said.

Northrop Grumman was unwilling to comment for this article, just noting commitment to NASA and ensuring the successful integration, launch and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. "


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