Air force peeved after Lockheed Martin botched GPS satellite testing

A Lockheed Martin subcontractor botched testing on a key component for the US’s newest Global Positioning System satellites.

According to Bloomberg   subcontractor Harris forced another delay in the delivery of the first of 32 planned GPS III satellites until later this month, and the Air Force is rather hacked off.

Major General Roger Teague, the Air Force’s chief of space programs said that the cock up will mean that the $528 million satellite 34 months late.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System.  Now the Air Force is wondering if it should award the contract for the rest of the system to Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

Teague said that the incident was avoidable and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris programme management.

Ceramic capacitors which take higher-voltage power from the satellite’s power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem have been a headache for the project.

Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn’t conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010.

Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites.

Harris “immediately notified Lockheed and the government” after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message.

“The capacitors met all mission qualification requirements,” he said, so “we are confident the capacitors are mission-ready”.

But Teague said in an interview that Harris was required to perform not only a test to show that the part met design specifications but a separate one to assess the component’s reliability and whether it met a requirement to last 15 years. That second test wasn’t accomplished because “they used the wrong test item,” he said.

The Air Force has decided to accept the first satellite even if its capacitors may be flawed because removing them could delay the delivery until October and cost about $70 million,

The Air Force must pay $100 million to replace the suspect capacitors on the second and third satellites. That’s because the satellites are being developed under cost-reimbursement-type contracts, which require the Pentagon to pay for cost increases, the service said.