An independent review of expensive and well-publicized launch failures of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s rockets and satellites finds the company focused too heavily on cutting costs and not enough on supervising the quality of its work, acccording to sources familiar with the panel's findings.
The report has been shared with Lockheed's top management. Senior officials at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill are expected to be briefed this week. A public release of the report's findings could come within days.
Lockheed spokesman James Fetig would not discuss the panel's findings but acknowledged that the review was complete.
"Management has received a briefing from the panel," Fetig said. "The findings are under review."
The aerospace industry has seen massive downsizings since the end of the Cold War. Now the slew of failures at both Lockheed and its major rival, Boeing Co., has prompted some in the industry to question whether the "best and the brightest" are gone from a business where insiders like to say, "It is rocket science."
Lockheed's Denver-based astronautics unit, where its Titan rockets are made, and its Sunnyvale, Calif. satellite-manufacturing business have both had large-scale staff reductions in the past year.
Some experts, including officials at other companies, have said an industry-wide emphasis on trimming costs has led to corners being cut on quality assurance and oversight. Sources who are familiar with the Lockheed panel's report say it mentions the issues of industry mergers and downsizings but that these are not a main focus of the report.
"When a long-running operation like this encounters problems with quality assurance and oversight, it's usually an indication personnel shifts have had unintended results," said one industry official.
Boeing also has had failures of late with its Delta series of rockets. In one instance, a TRW Inc. satellite being placed atop a Delta rocket was damaged by rain after Boeing workers failed to seal both sides of a shield intended to protect it from the elements.
The problems with the Lockheed and Boeing space programs led Pentagon and White House officials to launch their own investigations earlier this year. Both companies stand to lose millions of dollars in unearned performance fees if held responsible for the failures.
Lockheed convened its probe, headed by former NASA official and Martin Marietta president A. Thomas Young, in May after a string of launch failures from August 1998 through April. More than $2 billion worth of military and private satellites were either destroyed or deployed into useless orbits after launch from Lockheed's Titan, Centaur and Athena rockets.
The Air Force has already determined the causes of two of the Titan failures, one of which occurred April 30 when Lockheed software programmers misplaced a decimal point in instructions that set the rate at which the rocket rolls after launch. An April 9 failure was attributed to an improperly designed electrical connector on a Boeing upper stage used to loft a $250 million Defense Department satellite into orbit.
Lockheed concluded that the nose cone did not separate properly on an Athena rocket launching a Lockheed-built commercial remote-sensing satellite, causing it to fail to reach its proper orbit. A protective covering over the Ikonos Earth-imaging satellite did not separate as planned because of a faulty electronic signal, the company said, leaving the payload too heavy to reach its desired orbit.
As a result of the problems with its rocket and satellite businesses, Lockheed has installed new management in both operations and begun to change some of its operating procedures. Lockheed has said more than 200 changes in engineering, design and manufacturing procedures have already been made.
"In terms of what's going on in the future, I would say a lot of the things are being addressed," said Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Pierre Chao.
The Young report is likely to cast even more bad light on a troubled Lockheed, which has stumbled badly this year with an unexpected second-quarter loss, a suprise House vote in July to cut off funding for its F-22 fighter and delays in delivery of its C-130J cargo plane to the Air Force.