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The Military Bug Space United States Technology

Blocked Fuel Line Botched Military Satellite Orbit 86

Hugh Pickens writes "Dan Elliott reports that a piece of cloth inadvertently left in the fuel line during the manufacturing process may be the reason for the botched delivery to orbit of a military communications satellite that hasn't reached its planned orbit since it was launched in August. The Air Force Space Command and the contractor, Lockheed Martin, have devised a work-around plan using the remaining propulsion systems — reaction engine assemblies and electric Hall Current Thrusters drawing off of onboard fuel—to slowly raise the perigee of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite until it reaches its intended orbit 22,300 miles over the Earth in October, but the GAO says that the $12.9 billion satellite system incurred at least $250 million in extra costs and a two-year delay because of quality problems due to poor workmanship, undocumented and untested manufacturing processes, poor control of those processes and materials and failure to prevent contamination, poor part design, design complexity, and an inattention to manufacturing risks. John Pike of, which monitors defense issues, says the two-year delay is a bigger problem than the extra expense. 'You've got a lot of other things depending on the launch,' says Pike, including ground-based weapons."
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Blocked Fuel Line Botched Military Satellite Orbit

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Delaying ground based weapons is actually a good thing.

  • Air force and nasa (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And people whine about NASA being ineffective and costly for putting two landers on a distant planet for the "enormous price" of half a billion of dollars.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So a space war system had a cost overrun of $250M/$12.9B (2%), and now I'm surprised?mad?stirringup$#!+?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )

      No, it's the $12.9B we gave the Pentagon/CIA for a piece of junk that doesn't work due to contractor incompetence that's stirring up shit, and rightly so.

      Don Rumsfeld, is that you?

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Shit happens. You've never made a mistake? However, it was Rumsfield's responsibility and ultimately Bush's.

        • Re:2%? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Monchanger ( 637670 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @11:39AM (#36856988) Journal

          The whole reason we overspend on contractors is so mistakes don't occur. When they do there's rarely a good excuse, so it's no longer a mistake- it's generally due to negligence or corruption. That doesn't fall under the category of "shit happens."

        • $12.9B shit happens? No, that kind of shit doesn't just happen. It's deliberate incompetence designed to feed cronies. Which is exactly what defined Rumsfeld's entire career.

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @09:09AM (#36856036) Homepage Journal

    $12.9B for yet another military satellite for a Pentagon/CIA that doesn't detect or protect us from attacks that murder Americans and destroy our security, even though the GAO already knows the money was spent on incompetents.

    $TRILLIONS in cuts to your Social Security pension that you paid into from your paychecks your whole working life. To protect the $TRILLIONS wasted on the Pentagon/CIA.

    • by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @09:32AM (#36856150)

      It is funny how Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex perverting American government in 1961 and was spot on.

      This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

      Unfortunately the American citizenry turned out to be anything but "alert and knowledgeable". Companies like Lockheed Martin are effectively untouchable, I don't think there has been a major vehicle program since the 70's that wasn't rife with incompetence, distortion, and corruption. Massive naval vessels that aren't sea worthy have been accepted into service because of the collusion between the manufacturers and military officers running the development programs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )

        Eisenhower spent his 8 years as president shoving as much money and power at the military-industrial complex as he possibly could. He was elected president based on his years as the US supreme commander in Europe, pushing the Western Front against the Russians' advancing Eastern Front to crush the Nazis, which shoved as much money and power into the military-industrial complex as was physically possible. Though the 1940s MIC feast was well worth the investment, his 1950s splurge wasn't.

        Eisenhower deserves c

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The only war the Pentagon/CIA have won since Japan surrendered 2/3 of a century ago is the class war.

          They've manged to kill a *lot* of people though.

        • What you fail to understand however is the economic impact of cutting that budget. Yes, let's reduce defense spending. Which will lead to fewer contracts. Which will lead to fewer contractors. Which will lead to higher unemployment. Which will lead to greater entitlement spending. Which will lead to...suffering. HA! Take that, Yoda. It's a very delicate balance.
          • Cutting the military spending instead of SS, Medicare or the rest of what's being cut instead would be a lot better. Most of the spending doesn't go to the labor, and a lot more gets sent overseas, and much less comes back in taxes. Besides, military personnel and contractors are better able to find other income than are the oldest, poorest and sickest Americans. Besides, SS doesn't even contribute to the debt, except in that it's a source of domestic loans to the government at a very low interest rate, so

          • So you're saying that the military-industrial complex is too big to fail. [Soon] Welcome to the next level of governing: Dictatorship.
          • This is a common fallacy I see nowadays - if it employs people, no matter what it is, it must be good. Keep in mind we're basically paying people to kill and blow stuff up here. We'd actually be better off if we just payed them to stay home - your so-called entitlement spending.
        • The US could eliminate our deficits immediately by cutting our Pentagon/CIA budget to under $300B a year from its current $TRILLION+, and soon pay off the accumulated debt with the surplus.

          Ummm, no. Our deficit in 2010 was $1,560B. The DOD was $664B. The CIA budget is classified, but $50B is a good guess.

          Eliminating both entirely would only remove half the deficit. Those are real numbers. $TRILLIONS is not.

          I concur strongly with cutting defense to, well, actually defending the borders. I also believe we need to raise taxes a bit. To actually reduce the deficit we'll need to cut else where as well.

          But using inaccuracy and hyperbole will not make the case.

          • The Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libyan wars cost several hundred $B more. The Pentagon/CIA expense includes budgets spread across many other agencies, like NASA's development and launch budgets for our military/spy satellites. $BILLIONS in "foreign aid" are bribes dual-purposed to American exporters, many of which are indistinguishable from the Pentagon/CIA (weapons, spy systems), and to bribes and other expenses (US funded joint war games, etc) to foreigners integrated with and specified by the Pentagon/CIA.

      • "Unfortunately the American citizenry turned out to be anything but "alert and knowledgeable"."

        Americans get the government most deserve, though it sucks to be in the blast radius. The country is a Hellmouth.

        If you contemplate the average "person in the street" they inspire so much contempt it's no surprise their betters don't hesitate to shit on them.

      • Yeah, but realistically, the common people can't alter significantly the corrupt government through legal channels, or amass a militia to over-throw it.

        ... whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [WRT the rights of Life, Liberty, Equality and Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety a

        • If you succeed, you were a revolutionary. If you fail, you are a traitor. Winner writes the history books. Story at 11.
    • $12.9B for yet another military satellite for a Pentagon/CIA that doesn't detect or protect us from attacks that murder Americans and destroy our security

      That's a pretty simple minded view. Though I agree the bird is almost certainly overpriced, without communications the guys at the tip of the spear can't do their jobs.

      • What's "pretty simpleminded" is your view of what I posted, because that's not what I posted.

        It's the Pentagon/CIA that doesn't detect or protect us from attacks that murder Americans and destroy our security. Even though they already have hundreds of $BILLIONS in spy satellites, and even more in "guys at the tip of the spear". Too many guys, too many spears, too many satellites, not enough defense.

        BTW, if you hadn't blurted that "simpleminded" comment, this could have been a debate, despite your mistakes,

        • What's "pretty simpleminded" is your view of what I posted, because that's not what I posted.

          Yes, that *is* what you posted. Your later backpedaling and bullshit trying to explain what you *really* meant doesn't change that. A competent poster would have said what he meant in the first place.

          And it never would have been a debate in the first place. I don't fight unarmed individuals. I merely point and laugh at them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It seems to me that it is impossible for organizations like NASA and the Pentagon to actually learn from their mistakes. Every so often a major disaster involving management and quality control forces everyone into panic, and hundreds of recommendations to fix the systemic lack of control are put forward, some acted upon... until ten years later the new regime decides that all that fussing with process and verification and actually trying to FIND problems in the program/product are a waste of money. Because

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      The problem with NASA/Pentagon projects like this is that they are essentially single unit productions. As such, they have more in common with artisan-type craft work than mass production. And the skills needed to do this work are more demanding than assembly line work. The end result of this is that you need to retain more talented labor (IOW: pay more) and engage in more ad-hoc communication between the crafts and engineering than what contractor, subcontractor communications can tolerate.

    • $250M additional expenditure and a two year delay is hardly a "major disaster" in the scheme of things. They still got the system, and it will eventually meet requirements. It could be a hell of a lot worse. For example, the A-12 debacle. Canceled in 1991 and STILL working its way through the court system. Multi-billion dollars of expenditures for zero useful product. []
  • What penalties? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @09:31AM (#36856148) Homepage

    The Air Force Space Command and the contractor, Lockheed Martin...

    And what penalties is Lockheed Martin going to pay for the shoddy workmanship and untested processes? Will they have to reimburse the government for the expense? Lose their ability to bid on government contracts?

    When there's no accountability, there's no incentive to fix anything.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      The Air Force Space Command and the contractor, Lockheed Martin...

      And what penalties is Lockheed Martin going to pay for the shoddy workmanship and untested processes? Will they have to reimburse the government for the expense? Lose their ability to bid on government contracts?

      When there's no accountability, there's no incentive to fix anything.

      They get first shot at the next set of contracts, like usual.

    • And what penalties is Lockheed Martin going to pay for the shoddy workmanship and untested processes?

      Lose contracts to SpaceX? It's funny, I just heard a PHB from Lockheed on NPR (as part of a story on SpaceX) bragging about their QC processes and reliability...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I happen to know someone who works for a company that subcontracted to Lockheed Martin on (unrelated parts of) this satellite project. What he tells me is that they are indeed being charged or going to be charged for the problem...and have already begun efforts to pass as many of those fines along to their subcontractors as possible. His team's particular piece of the project was the database - but why should that matter if it saves Lockheed money to pass along the costs of their mistakes?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Lockheed Martin will be required to take all their MBAs who pushed Six Sigma process controls on to their satellite production business out behind the factory and put a bullet through each ones head.

    • When there's no accountability, there's no incentive to fix anything.

      Here's how I'd run government: "When the satellite reaches proper orbit and tests out, you'll get the first 80% of the $12.4B. When it's operational for a year, you'll get the remainder.

      A decent mix of investors, lenders, and insurance would allow this kind of project, yet every player would demand excellent quality.

    • From the article:

      ...the company's "remaining award fee" would be reduced by $15 million because of the fuel line problem.

      Perhaps not enough to balance the costs of delayed implementation, but not nothing, either. And almost certainly exactly what the contract authors expected. Now, as to whether military contracts like these are structured to properly protect the nation, that's another question. But the US government is obliged to use its monopsony [] wisely so as to prevent total collapse of the suppliers.

  • They spent 12.9B on a poor quality military communications satellite, and yet they want to cancel the James Webb space telescope because its projected cost rose to 6.8B!?! Our priorities are all wrong!
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The telescope is unlikely to be used to spy on you or to infringe on your rights. In that regard it is un-useful to the national security state. They need spy gear and to funnel your tax money to rich fat cats. Everything else is secondary.

    • by Trapezium Artist ( 919330 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @11:03AM (#36856714)

      AEHF is a system of four satellites, I think, not just one, but nevertheless, I completely agree with what you're saying re: JWST. It's crazy.

      Interestingly, AEHF is a military communications system with data rates up to 8Mbit/s from an orbit of 22,000 miles, while JWST has a data rate in excess of 10Mbit/s from L2, i.e. just under a million miles. The comparison is completely specious, I realise (just think about the size of the comms antennae involved, uplink vs downlink, and so on), but amuses me nonetheless :-)

      •, you are suggesting they use the James Webb space telescope to spy on the Taliban?

      • AEHF is designed to be LPI and jam resilient. JWST's downlink isn't.
        • I know; that's why I said that my comparison was specious.

          I didn't mean for it to be taken seriously; I was just amused by the roughly coincident data rates.

  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Saturday July 23, 2011 @10:41AM (#36856540)
    Maybe we could use the shuttle to go capture it and move it into it's proper orbit.
    • Neat idea! Unfortunately, we're talking a 22,000 mile orbit--I think the highest the Shuttle has gone is 400 miles.

      Also, this satellite wasn't designed to be serviced in orbit, so there's nothing for a Shuttle arm to grab onto so that they could fix the problem, refuel it, and send it on it's way.

      Still, it's a neat idea. Pity it won't work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 23, 2011 @02:03PM (#36857926)
    Sorry for the AC, but I actually work for Lockheed Martin.

    The problem with defense contracting in the United States is, the government itself has created this system and we reap what we have sown. I'm not saying contractors always do right and aren't to blame for situations like this. Quite the contrary.

    But the whole way the system works needs a major overhaul. For instance, we're awarded contracts to produce systems. Costs are already astronomical because the government places extremely costly requirements on process and all kinds of other things that may or may not make the products better. The levels of bureaucracy are mind boggling. And you've heard the term "nanny state", well, that's nothing compared to the type of involvement the government has in these programs.

    People think the government says, "we need a satellite" and then a while later, we build one and they cut us a check. It doesn't work like that at all. There are contract award fees and admittedly, I'm an engineer and I don't fully understand how the finances work, but we're constantly trained on proper time recording because those hours are billed to the government. Sounds nice until you consider this: what would you do if you walked into Home Depot to buy an appliance or something and they started talking about billing hours to you? You'd run out of there at a full sprint. So why is it that we're not just making products and selling them at a fixed price? In other words, why are we not saying, "we made this system, if you want it, it costs $75 million", or whatever the prices is?

    This is how cost overruns happen. What would happen if some appliance manufacturer, in bringing a new dishwasher to market, had technical challenges, manufacturing problems, labor issues, whatever, such that when it hit the market, it cost $50,000? They wouldn't sell one. Now, take it a step further and say you went into the store and pre-ordered one before these issues and while this stuff is happening, they're billing you for hours and moving the completion date and things like that? This is the way defense contracting works, not because we asked for this system, but because this is the way the government has run the system. When GM puts a car on the lot at a dealer, there's a price tag on it based on what it's worth, not based on cost-overruns during R&D. Sure, they need to price things in a way that will recoup that development cost, but they have to balance that with what will move vehicles.

    The basic point is, contractors deserve some blame, but ultimately, the lesson is that government cannot and will not efficiently develop anything of its own. If you think that taking the work out of the hands of contractors and just making it a government enterprise will change anything, you are sadly mistaken. The contractors are the beast that has sprung up out of the system because of the way the system works, not because contractors are somehow greedy and evil. Contrary to popular belief, there is a general desire to do good work and to put out products to be proud of, not some concerted effort to pull the wool over people's eyes and to milk the government for all it's worth. Yes, there examples of bad behavior on contractors' parts, and we are to blame for those things, but the system allows that stuff to happen without sufficient consequence.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern