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Evaluation of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program Quality Management System

DODIG 2018-045

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Dec. 20, 2017 —  

Background

The DoD created the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program in response to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994, which directed the Secretary of Defense to develop and submit to Congress a plan for the “modernization of space launch capabilities for the DoD or, if appropriate, for the Government as a whole.” The EELV System Program Office (SPO) acquires launch services for U.S. military and intelligence spacecraft from ULA and SpaceX. AR provides ULA the RL-10 engine for use on the Delta IV and Atlas V. The EELV SPO delegates day-to-day contract and quality assurance management to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) through a memorandum of agreement (MOA).

 

Findings

We found that ULA, SpaceX, and AR did not perform adequate quality assurance management of the EELV program, as evidenced by the 181 nonconformities to the AS9100C at the EELV contractor production facilities. For example, we found that ULA, SpaceX, and AR failed to comply with AS9100C, section 7.5.5, Preservation of Product. At ULA, we found nonconformities related to Electrostatic Sensitive Device (ESD) protection in the avionics production area. We found ungrounded ESD workstations, untested wrist straps, missing ESD protective covers, nonESD approved containers and materials, and uncontrolled humidity levels. Inadequate ESD controls and mitigation could result in the premature failure of electronic components in the EELV system.

At SpaceX, we found an inadequately protected Merlin engine on the test stand. The Merlin engine exhaust ports and vent tubes should have been protected with specific covers. Furthermore, we found bottles of soda and personal items in FOD-controlled areas. At AR, we found that the RL-10 engine test stand, used to test both the Delta IV and Atlas V second stage engine, had significant FOD issues, including loose bolts, nuts, tape, foil, tie wraps, and animal feces. Inadequate control of FOD significantly increases the risk of damage to EELV hardware, which can lead to costly rework and schedule impact.

ULA’s, SpaceX’s, and AR’s inadequate quality assurance management could increase program costs, delay launch schedules, and increase the risk of mission failure.

 

Recommendations

We recommend that the Director, EELV SPO, and the Director, DCMA, conduct a root cause analysis and implement corrective actions for the 181 nonconformities identified during our evaluation and provide the DoD Office of Inspector General a copy of the root cause analysis and corrective action plan within 90 days of the issuance of this report.

Additionally, we recommend that the Director, EELV SPO, and the Director, DCMA, develop a corrective action plan to improve EELV quality assurance management to ensure that the EELV contractors comply with all AS9100C requirements and provide the DoD Office of Inspector General a copy of the corrective action plan within 90 days of the issuance of this report.