Audit doc reveals how SpaceX manages to keep NASA happy

It’s no secret that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has big aspirations to send manned missions to Mars, but being able to do so requires the company to prove that it can first complete unmanned space missions, starting with resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for arguably its most important customer – NASA.

But when these missions go awry as in the case on June 2015 when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies for the ISS exploded after launching from Cape Canaveral, resulting in NASA to lose a new airlock it had developed for commercial spacecraft bringing humans to the station and causing delays to future missions, Musks’s space company must provide solutions to maintain the confidence of its biggest client.

A 2015 SpaceX audit document surfaced by publication Quartz provides insight on the many actions SpaceX has taken and will continue to take in order to be in good graces with NASA. The most obvious being cost reduction of space missions.

33% cost reduction in launch fee

SpaceX’s commercial resupply contracts with NASA split launches into three phases – preparation, launch and mission complete. After the Falcon 9 explosion, SpaceX had to forfeit 33% of its launch fee said to be as much as $44 million.

Unconditional guaranteed price

According to the document, SpaceX guarantees launch prices even if there are delays. This allows NASA to effectively lock in at a price resulting in more than $65 million in savings which is more than the quoted price of launching SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Throw in some extra goodies

SpaceX agreed to provide NASA “extras at no cost” comprised of an upgrade to the electrical power onboard the Dragon spacecraft the company which will allow it to onboard three times more cargo. Additional electrical power allows NASA to conduct more science experiments that require power.

Shift manufacturing processes to address NASA concerns

An internal investigation into the Falcon 9 rocket failure pointed to a failed strut manufactured by a subcontractor which has remained anonymous. But according to NASA’s own investigation, several other “credible causes” could have influenced the explosion, including potential improper installation.

The audit document reveals that SpaceX has reorganized its quality control teams as well as the management of technicians at work.

Since the document was released, SpaceX and the Falcon 9 rocket have launched without failure and completed numerous space missions.

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