Payton Slams Space Firms’ Quality

Payton Slams Space Firms’ Quality

The makers of America’s rockets and satellites “are still stumbling on fundamentals too often,” said Gary Payton, former astronaut and the top Air Force man on space acquisition. Payton’s comments seem to indicate a continuing trend of shoddy quality control among those whose toughest job is turning out top quality parts and software and making sure they work and fit well.

The biggest problem lies with suppliers, who are selling equipment that is just not up to snuff, Payton said. However, the primes also must shoulder blame since they are not overseeing suppliers at the factory level as closely as they must. Payton spoke to reporters at a Thursday lunch organized by the Space Foundation.

“We have been finding problems on satellites and launch vehicles; valves on launch vehicles, gyroscopes and reaction wheels on satellites,” Payton said. “We have been finding test execution problems.” The problems are not as severe they were five years ago during the peak of the period when most honest people declared space acquisition broken, when almost every space program suffered Nunn-McCurdy breaches and serious technical challenges. But Payton made clear there are still significant problems.


Payton is the second senior acquisition official to worry publicly about quality control this week. The Missile Defense Agency is struggling with lousy quality control among its contractors, its executive director said the agency’s budget rollout. David Altwegg, a highly respected missileer and engineer, told reporters that he and his colleagues stood watching a recent THAAD test. A drogue parachute pulled the target out of a C-17. “We all stood there and watched it fall into the water,” said an obviously disgusted Altweg. A failure review board was convened and found the test failed due to “a quality control problem.”

The Air Force is trying to tackle this. Space and Missile Systems Command, the Air Force’s rocket and satellite honchos, is hiring 900 people over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to beef up the ranks of testers, acquisition specialists, cost estimating experts (of whom there are very few) and systems engineers, Payton said, to help catch these problems early in a program.

“I am constantly frustrated by assembly integration and test that takes so long,” he said, adding that this is partly occurring because of beefed up testing and quality control checks. “We are discovering the problems before launch…”

The other thing that the Air Force has done to improve performance is to switch from award fee contracts to incentive fees, which “force the program manager to decide what is more important to you, to deliver on cost, on schedule or on very high performance. And I always add a clause on on-orbit performance. I don’t want to launch an ice cube.”

For some perspective on this, remember that the U.S. Air Force has an excellent record of putting dozens of satellites safely into space after a string of launch disasters in the late 1990s. This string of successes came after five major failures, including three heavy Titan IV rockets, losing Air Force and NRO payloads totaling over $3 billion.

But glitches remain. Ongoing problems with Orbital’s Minotaur 4 rocket will delay by 14 months the launch of the Air Force’s Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite And the SBIRS missile detection satellite program has been dogged by persistent hardware and software problems for almost two years — after years of cost overruns and delays. They still have not been solved, Payton said yesterday.

And, of course, the U.S. was forced to shoot down US 193 the classified, reconnaissance satellite built by Lockheed Martin, in early 2008. No one outside the classified world knows what caused that satellite to fail, but it never worked. And in one of the more spectacular quality control lapses, Lockheed Martin workers dropped and damaged a NOAA satellite in September 2003. Perhaps with the 900 new people at SMC and the switch to incentive fee contracts will nip these problems in the bud over the next three to five years.

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I know that this is going to sound rather impossible to many of you, but how about this revolutionary idea: If it doesn’t work, we don’t pay for it.….…. Let the eye rolling begin.

Having worked with Gary Payton before, he is a very bright guy who knows what he is talking about. One thing to remember, however, is that the DoD has spent a lot of time on Lean Six Sigma, TQM, etc which creates hesitation to change processes. Once a process has gone thru the very bureaucratic Lean Six Sigma (or one of its many predecessors) mixer, it becomes hard to change. Even improvements are hard to implement. None of those “programs” actually improves anything — they merely document them. What we need are improvements.

Payton should go back to the Air Force and get them back on track. I would hope Payton would also look at the SMC Systems Engineering Primer and Handbook. Quality is a small part of the whole solution. I have talked with SMC folks about another document on Electromagnetic Compatibility SMC-008(?).
The ones I have run across fall into two camps. Never heard of these documents or read it and don’t follow it. I have read and understand why no one follows SMC-008. It is incomplete and somewhat off the wall with some of the requirements. In the old days (pre-1995) this kind of document would never have made it to the street. Of course you would also have engineers that new something of systems engineering.

ahh the old days

Opine
bt
Former LM employee here. Disclaimer, My opine Only.
bt
Quailty control ulltimately lies with the individual employee. Pressure to produce, NOW, is always a factor in the process. Empowerment, SIGMA Six activities and other programs have allowed the INDIVIDUAL the power to simply stop the processes. Quality control, inspections, tests and recoveries are all fiscally controlled after the production process. INDIVIDUALS on the line, at the test sites, on scene can and do make the product Quality.
bt
It is fine for the Top Level Gurus to be “Concerned”, but I would add, let them work on the production line for a while, stand in the rain on the flight lines and generally get their hands dirty, then they can be “Concerned“
end
Semper Fi

Good Morning Folks,

Mr. Payton is 100% correct. He has identified a problem, although it’s not ever been a secret. If he were in a civilian environment his boss would say;”… good job Payton. Your in the pay grade, solve it.”

In the more narrow sense the problem is lack of any real competition in the satellite/launch vehicle business because of consolidation and buyouts, and the out sourcing by the AF to private tanks who have “special” …oops can’t use that word, deals with in the industry to spec and design the products.

The secret that Mr. Payton hasn’t caught on to, is that in the space business the money is made in R&D and screw ups that must be redone. Once you launch and it’s successful the revenue stream is over. Only the Government can’t understand this.

The deeper problem is the decline on both the state and national and levels of post baccalauerate/graduate education. Example in the 1960’s the California State University system yearly graduated over 2,500 MS’s a year in the physical and life sciences, now they don’t even offer these degrees. If a California student wants to go beyond a BS in the sciences he/she has to go to a State University or a private institution both of which are far more expensive.

The generation of the 60’s is approaching or in fact has entered retirement age, there are few replacements to fill their vacated positions. It short, it will get worse, the false economics of the Reganization of higher education is coming back to haunt us.

Something else to think about on this topic. Someone I post to once in a while, who is well informed on the topic of satellite and launch vehicles, has noticed the accelerated learning and industrial development curves that Iran are on in developing both a satellite and a launch vehicle industry. Just this week Iran launched another communications satellite, Iran has been quietly working on being a quality producer of communications satellites, and successful launch capabilities, they are quickly becoming a player in Space.

Iran has also found an unexpected intellectual gold mine of the children of these who left the country in 1979 after the Revolution for the United States and Europe, they are asking to return. They are finding the discrimination against Muslims in the US and EU intolerable. Many of these people are in their thirties have advanced degrees in the sciences from the top educatioal institutions in the US and Europe.

Can anybody put two and two together? The US Government and it think tanks can’t.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

So we are falling behind in terms of space technology because we aren’t being nice enough to the Iranians and their constant threats? That is absurd.

And it wouldn’t be a Byron post without a “blame the Republicans” statement and references to mysterious think tanks.

What else is new?

Years ago, the A.F. due to cost, stopped much routine testing of various items on receipt from the vendors. Total dependence was placed upon inspections by the on site inspectors of the Defense Supply Agency. BIG Mistake!
Later, it was also found that the A.F. did not obtain the necessary documents and equipment to even do in depth independent oversight testing.

In reality, most of the QC “testing” effort is in insuring that all the paperwork is correct, with little time and effort expended in order to confirm that the items actually fully meet the required specificaions.

Byron — You should look at the financial statements of these space firms. You’ll find that their revenue stream does not end at launch, but instead continues over the course of a 15–20 year period. This is because the contracts for satellites require the systems to stay operational for a specified period of time and thus there is a very real incentive for the space firms to make a product that is successful. They lose a tremendous amount of revenue if these sats fail.

One of the great untold stories in defense are our set asides for “small businesses” which factor heavily in procurement decisions. The argument is that by giving these contracts to the little guy we diversify the industrial base and give small firms a chance to compete. The problem with this is that none of these firms are competing on quality or innovation; they compete on who has the most boxes checked. They compete on whose ownership checks the most categories, not who provides the best value/highest service. (hey why let the facts get in the way of a good theory, right?)

Even if these contracts are executed perfectly, they drive up the cost of the overall project by adding profit margins and administrative overhead to everything from buying screws to packaging parts for shipping. Worse yet when they do not perform there are no real repercussions for most of these firms because their special status as “preferred suppliers” helped get (FILL IN DEFENSE CORP) contract XXXX.

CONTINUED.….

We have forgotten management 101: “What gets rewarded gets done.” In this case it’s fraud, waste and abuse. Throw in earmarks and congressional/senatorial hijinxs and you have the dysfunction we lovingly call government contracting. It isn’t a wonder these programs fail, it is a miracle anything succeeds….

It’s not just in new systems and R&D, it’s across the board (Rocket motors, software, cruise missles, TRIDENT submarine missles and so on). ATK, GD, LOCKHEED, BAE all feel they are untouchable because they have had the run of contracts for so long and because of all the retired military brass they hire to run interferance for them. At most of these locations the government staff is so beaten up from not getting any support from HQ against the contractors they they dont even try any more. That is one of the reasons the military started requiring MILSTD 1910 which allows zero defects but the contractors threw such fits that it is always waived in most cases (except against small business contracts). The whole system needs an overhaul.

‘Twas ever thus. Back in the 80’s the Magellan-Venus probe was shipped to KSC/CCAFS with its Star-48 retro motor wired backwards. If that hadn’t been found and fixed, it never would have entered into orbit around Venus. Then the Florida techs managed to plug a power cable into a data port and start a small fire. And of course there was the Galileo main antenna which never unfurled…

“..an’ lemme tell ya somethin’ else, sonny: ya oughta pull yer pants up an’ turn yer hat around!”

Good Morning Daskro,

You said a lot, but all of it needs caveats. Government launch failures are often covered by the Government, and in the reorder, which most of the time goes to the failed contractor. For a private launch, failure is covered by insurance, satellite insurance is a big steaks/reward industry.

Yes, maintenance for the duration of a satellite expected life is part of a contract, its costs are part of the original contract. The project is the responsibility of the customer or an agent for the customer.

As for the balance sheets most of these companies are a subsidarty of a larger defense contractors and get generous R&D funds to stay in business. For a parent company it not in their best interest to sho profits is such activities.

Your last statement really is questionable. The number of companies in the US that are in the big ticket satellite business is rather small and they often such as on the current NPOESS (launch Fall 2011) Weather satellite for the Government the whole industry has a piece of the action with NG as the prime contractor. As in the case of Boeing in 2004 when the revenue of it’s satellite division fell below the expectations of equity, the DoD under President Bush quickly placed a no bid order for $5 billion in AF communication satellites that the AF DIDN’T WANT.

Satellites and Satellite Launch Vehicles are an area where small emerging and developing countries can find a “Comparative Advantage” over the US and Russia. Space is an aging industry and countries that even 20 years ago could even dream of getting into the action are now becoming players. The current US weather satellite is a good example it will take about five years from funding to launch, it will cost $ billions and the data from it will be controlled by the United States Government. This will cut out a lot of customers that are not friends of the current administration.

While the US weather satellite will have, at least for a few months the latest technology and advantage will quickly evaporate as the technology spread down the food chain. As with communication satellites third party countries will start to build weather satellites and launch them and sell the data cheaper then the Us can.

In sort the US Space industry is crumbling and is getting real close to a single customer the US Government. Like any decaying industry, it is consolidating and its quality is declining as workers age and young worker find better opportunities elsewhere. The end of course will be a GM type of take over/ bail out as an industry to vital to national interests to fail, or just downright nationalization of the space industry by The United States Government.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

Good Morning Daskro,

You said a lot, but all of it needs caveats. Government launch failures are often covered by the Government, and in the reorder, which most of the time goes to the failed contractor. For a private launch, failure is covered by insurance, satellite insurance is a big steaks/reward industry.

Yes, maintenance for the duration of a satellite expected life is part of a contract, its costs are part of the original contract. The project is the responsibility of the customer or an agent for the customer.

As for the balance sheets most of these companies are a subsidiary of a larger defense contractors and get generous R&D funds to stay in business. For a parent company it not in their best interest to show profits is such activities.

Your last statement really is questionable. The number of companies in the US that are in the big ticket satellite business is rather small and they often such as on the current NPOESS (launch Fall 2011) Weather satellite for the Government the whole industry has a piece of the action with NG as the prime contractor. As in the case of Boeing in 2004 when the revenue of it’s satellite division fell below the expectations of equity, the DoD under President Bush quickly placed a no bid order for $5 billion in AF communication satellites that the AF DIDN’T WANT.

Satellites and Satellite Launch Vehicles are an area where small emerging and developing countries can find a “Comparative Advantage” over the US and Russia.

Space is an aging industry and countries that even 20 years ago small economies could even dream of getting into the action, are now becoming big players.

The current US weather satellite is a good example it will take about five years from funding to launch, it will cost $ billions and the data from it will be controlled by the United States Government. This will cut out a lot of customers that are not friends of the current administration.

While the US weather satellite will have, at least for a few months the latest technology and advantage will quickly evaporate as the technology spreads down the food chain. As with communication satellites third party countries will start to build weather satellites and launch them and sell the data cheaper then the Us can.

In sort the US Space industry is crumbling and is getting real close to a single customer the US Government.

Like any decaying industry, it is consolidating and its quality is declining as workers age and young worker find better opportunities elsewhere. The end of course will be a GM type of take over/ bail out as an industry to vital to national interests to fail, or just downright nationalization of the space industry by The United States Government.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

Byron, seriously, GET YOUR OWN DAMN BLOG.

As to the article: Payton wonders why there are so many defects now. The answer, as Burgundy points out, is that “so many” and “now” aren’t actually the case. There always were as many defects and failures as we have now; we just didn’t hear about them because it was classified. For God’s sake, the first TWELVE Corona missions failed to deliver any images!

Payton also wonders why I&T take so long. I’ll point that finger right back at him. AEHF had a component failure during full-up system testing; LM fixed the component, and then the USAF threw away five months of thermal-vac test results and made LM do it all over again because It’s A New Configuration Now.

Good Evening DensityDuck,

As I read what you are say, the failure rate of the US space industry is about the same as 60 years ago. If that is correct and I have no reason to doubt you then I perplexed as why there are any American companies still in the industry?

The purpose of a business is to make money and the defense industry is well aware of this, if saddles and canvas sails were still in demand by the US military the defense industry would be the largest manufactures of such items in the world, would they not?

Your statement suggest that a lot of dead ends and just plain cra**y product has been run through the military aero space system over the years and much of this waste and corruption has been covered with a blanket of “classified”.

I can’t disagree with any of that. Now with foreign competition setting in big time the problems are only going to get worse. I read somewhere that the DoD now uses more commercial communications and photo imaging (ie. foreign) satellite time then on its own “classified” proprietary systems. It’s cheaper and the services is more reliable.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

You tell ‘em, Bryon!

I spent many years in the Quality organizations of Rockwell Space Division, later Boeing and at Lockheed Martin. The problems are deeply ingrained in the very cultures of the aerospace industry.

Manufacturing always seeks cost cutting by removing quality personnel from the process. The latest fad, “faster, better, cheaper,” was just that, a fad among many perpetrated on quality by DoD.

The companies do what the DoD directs them to do. They want lower prices at the cost quality.

Whether it was DCAS, DPRO, DCMA or DCMAS, there is a push to focus on the details of the process at the expense product. Example; many are more interested in whether the paperwork had all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed whithout understanding the actual product. That isn’t so much an indictment of the people as it is of the culture.

This leads to the focus programs and processes creating a built in resistance to change.

The fact that you have witnessed a Lean Six Sigma initiative create an inflexable process indicates that it was not a Lean Six Sigma initiative. The very nature of Lean is continual improvement (change). Having worked for the government for 8 years and then contracted for the last 5, I understand why it has become bureaucratic and inflexable. The government likes ideas, but has a hard time realizing them properly.

Transcend your perceptions. Lean Six Sigma may not have produced results in some government environments, most commonly, because the government likes to appear as they are making changes in effort to gain recognition for self or department equating to egocentric self-preservation.

Mr. Colin…Get your FACTS straight. The “Government” GFE Minotaur-4 2nd stage that has gas venting problems is a direct result of an ICBM Not being ever envisioned to be turned into a LEO class launch vehicle. I don’t see why you blame Orbital for a GOVERNMENT GFE problem. Oh, BTW you also incorrectly state Orbital caused a 14 month delay to launching SBSS, the Facts are the venting problem caused a 2–3 month delay…You need to better Check your facts next time. Some would say YOUR Journalism is “still stumbling on fundamentals too often,” as Mr. Payton said it best.

WHEN PRESIDENT CLINTON GAVE OUR “EXPERTISE” AWAY TO CHINA TO PUT THERE MISSILES IN ORBIT HE MUST HAVE GIVEN OUR QUALITY CONTROL AWAY ALSO.…..

No TRUE Scot would ever implement an inflexible Lean Six Sigma initiative!

Ah, the drama of what to do with contractor quality or lack thereof if you prefer. Have to say, the individual engineer designs in quality and hopes folks follow the quality standard as required. Multiple reviews should uncover many items so it can fly through the first time. They dont, but they do get close. The kicker is each company does there business differently. No to payload sensor providers are the same in how they carry out their business. These folks do some of the dumbest mistakes one has ever seen. You just shake your head and wonder what planet they came from. I definitely think contractors can do better with their quality.

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