Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753) RELEASE: 98-109

June 23, 1998

LEWIS SPACECRAFT FAILURE BOARD REPORT RELEASED NASA's Earth-orbiting Lewis spacecraft failed last fall due to a combination of a technically flawed attitude-control system design and inadequate monitoring of the spacecraft during its crucial early operations phase, according to the report of the Lewis Spacecraft Mission Failure Investigation Board. Lewis was launched on August 23, 1997, with the goal of demonstrating advanced science instruments and spacecraft technologies for measuring changes in Earth's land surfaces. The spacecraft entered a flat spin in orbit that resulted in a loss of solar power and a fatal battery discharge. Contact with the spacecraft was lost on Aug. 26, and it then reentered the atmosphere and was destroyed on Sept. 28. The 890-pound spacecraft was designed and built by TRW Space & Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, CA, as part of NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology Initiative. The design of the Lewis attitude control system was adapted by TRW from its design for the system on the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer spacecraft. The failure board found that this adaptation was done without sufficient consideration for applying the system's design to a different primary spacecraft spin-axis orientation on Lewis. As a result, minor rotational perturbations, possibly due to small imbalances in the forces produced by the spacecraft's attitude control thrusters, caused the Lewis spacecraft to enter a spin. This situation eventually overloaded the spacecraft's control system while it was in a safehold mode. Prelaunch simulation and testing of the spacecraft's safehold modes also was flawed because it failed to analyze this possibility, the failure board found. The combination of these errors with the subsequent assumption that a small crew could monitor and operate Lewis with the aid of an autonomous safehold mode, even during the initial operations period, was the primary cause of the

mission failure, according to the failure board's report. The failure board also assessed the role of the "faster, better, cheaper" project management approach in the Lewis program. "The Lewis mission was a bold attempt by NASA to jumpstart the application of the 'faster, better, and cheaper' philosophy of doing its business," said Christine Anderson, chair of the failure board and Director of Space Vehicles for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. "I do not think that this concept is flawed. What was flawed in the Lewis program, beyond some engineering assumptions, was the lack of clear understanding between NASA and TRW about how to apply this philosophy effectively. This includes developing an appropriate balance between the three elements of this philosophy, the need for well-defined, well-understood and consistent roles for government and industry partners, and regular communication between all parts of the team." "The Lewis failure offers us some valuable lessons in program management and in our approach to technical 'insight.' Lewis was an extreme example of allowing the contractor to have engineering autonomy. In the end, however, NASA has the responsibility to assure that the project objectives are met, and our assurance process was ineffective in this case," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science. "NASA's Office of the Chief Engineer is developing general 'lessons learned' from this project and other 'faster, better, cheaper' efforts, and we intend to apply them vigorously to all of our future missions, including the second generation of spacecraft in the Earth Observing System. "I would like to commend Christine Anderson and the members of her panel for their thorough job, and thank all the participants in the Lewis program for their cooperation with this review," Asrar added. The total cost to NASA of the Lewis mission, including its launch vehicle and one year of planned orbital operations, was $64.8 million. NASA incurred an additional cost of $6.2 million for storage and maintenance of the spacecraft during a one-year delay due to launch vehicle

issues. Lewis was part of NASA's Earth Science enterprise, a long-term research program designed to study the Earth's land, oceans, air, ice and life as a total system. -endEDITOR'S NOTE: The report of the Lewis Spacecraft Mission Failure Investigation Board is available via the Internet at the following address: