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1. How NASA’s two failed rocket launches came from fraudulent metals

At Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2009, two cranes have raised NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory, or OCO, spacecraft to vertical.

(At Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2009, the lost NASA satellite before it is placed on the Taurus T8 rocket.)

An incredible story of deception emerged in full yesterday, as NASA revealed the details of a decade-long investigation into two launch failures.

The cause? A metal manufacturer, which produced poor quality materials and then deliberately faked the test results to make sure they got paid.

What happened:

  • Two rockets carrying out missions in 2009 and 2011 failed.
  • The rockets launched into space correctly, but on each occasion during the separation phases, weren’t able to deliver satellites that at the time, were meant to help study Earth’s climate.
  • The Taurus XL T8 on February 24, 2009, and the Taurus XL T9 on March 4, 2011, both were unsuccessful, despite successful launches.
  • At the time it was understood the payload fairing didn’t properly separate from the two rockets. The second failure occurred despite a redesign.
  • Here are NASA’s statements after the failures in 2009, and 2011, and you can watch the launch and unfolding issues on YouTube – known as the OCO mission in 2009, and an explanation of the failure in 2011.
  • Both were total losses, with upwards of $700m of scientific equipment destroyed, and millions more spent in redesigns and investigations.

What NASA and the Feds found:

  • The story of the investigation is actual rocket science, making the detail of an explanation of the failure of “single frangible joint rail,” as NASA describes in an eight-page PDF report, rather complicated.
  • What we know is the investigation managed to test materials recovered from the failures, and the precise testing found elements weren’t up to the standard needed to survive a trip into space and deliver a payload, despite “test results” showing they were.
  • Over the course of several years, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Oregon-based aluminum manufacturer Sapa Profiles and Sapa Extrusions (SPI) with crimes and civil claims of fraud. It agreed to pay “$46.9 million to NASA, the Department of Defense, and many commercial customers”.
  • Dennis Balius, the SPI testing lab supervisor, was jailed for three years in 2017, after admitting to the falsification.
  • Bizarrely, Balius and the company schemed to falsify its test records for more than 2,000 tests for more than 200 customers, over 19 years.


  • The reason, via DOJ statement: “SPI employees generally engaged in these practices to conceal the inconsistent quality of aluminum extrusions produced by SPI, avoid the costly scrapping of metal and accompanying production delays, improve SPI’s and SEI’s profits, and receive bonuses that were calculated in part based on a production metric.”
  • So, because money.
  • How much? The Oregonian newspaper in Portland reported Balius collected bonuses “that averaged $3,954 per year.”

What NASA and the DoJ said:

  • “For nearly 20 years, Sapa Profiles and Sapa Extrusions falsified critical tests on the aluminum they sold—tests that their customers, including the U.S. government, depended on to ensure the reliability of the aluminum they purchased,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski in a DoJ statement.
  • Corporate and personal greed perpetuated this fraud against the government and other private customers, and this resolution holds these companies accountable for the harm caused by their scheme.”
  • When testing results are altered and certifications are provided falsely, missions fail,” said Jim Norman, director for launch services at NASA in Washington. Norman added that years of scientific work were lost because of the fraud.

What now:

  • Sapa Profiles was bought by an enormous Norwegian aluminum company in 2017, Norsk Hydro, and is now called Hydro Extrusion Portland, Inc.
  • Regardless, it was suspended from government contracting on September 30th, 2015, meaning it can no longer do business with the federal government.
  • Is that enough?

2. Google is bringing out a new tool to let users limit how long it keeps location, search, and browsing data in coming weeks (

3. Remember the first car with Google baked in we talked about back in February? Now my colleague David Imel has spent time with the EV in a hands-on: The Volvo Polestar 2 has Android running in its veins (Android Authority, plus video).

4. Leaked Moto Z4 pics show it’s keeping the headphone jack and Moto Mods (AA).

5. High-wattage USB-C batteries can keep your laptop charged on the go (The Verge).

6. Huawei to enter high-end electronics with world’s “first” 8K 5G TV (Nikkei). It’s the 5G part that would make a ‘first’, able to handle heavy downloads to provide new experiences. Except those experiences don’t exist just yet!

7. Apple and Intel aren’t getting along and it’s becoming public: 5G modems are one story, limited CPUs to delay new Macbooks are another (DaringFireball).

8. Also, Qualcomm sees up to “$4.7 billion” in payment from new Apple deal (Bloomberg).

9. Amazon says fully-automated warehouses are at least a decade away (Reuters). Worth your time.

10. This is amazing: Asteroids delivered half of Earth’s water, new sample suggests (

11. “Pet owners of Reddit, what is the most bizarre thing your pet expects from you?” (r/askreddit)

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