NOAA way! YES way!


Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Jan 31, 2009
Reaction score

Yes, it really happened.

It took place at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems factory in Sunnyvale, California. As the team was turning the satellite into a horizontal position, they found out that the twenty-four bolts that were supposed to hold it in place had been removed by a technician - and the action was never documented.

According to NASA:

"The NASA Mishap Board investigating damage to the NOAA-N-Prime satellite has released its final report.

On September 6, 2003, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) N-Prime satellite fell to the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company factory floor in Sunnyvale, Calif. Technicians were working on the spacecraft, when the accident happened. The spacecraft suffered significant damage.

The Board, chaired by the NASA Deputy Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, had representatives from NASA research centers and the Air Force Space Command, as well as advisors from NOAA and the Federal Aviation Administration."

The full report is here (113 pages!):

From "Final Launch in NOAA Series" in Aviation Week & Space Technology, 26 January 09:

"After it suffered significant damage when it tipped over on the factory floor in September 2003, the contractor used fees earned on the NOAA spacecraft it previously built to cover the cost of repairs.

Fortunately, since NOAA-N Prime was the last in the series, there were backup instruments and components available, so the contractor required “only a few” new components to fill in gaps, said NASA’s Wayne McIntyre, program manager for the Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite, during a briefing on Jan. 22."

The satellite was launched in February 2009.


On September 6, 2003, the satellite was badly damaged while being worked on at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems factory in Sunnyvale, California. The satellite fell to the floor as a team was turning it into a horizontal position. A NASA inquiry into the mishap determined that it was caused by a lack of procedural discipline throughout the facility. While the turn-over cart used during the procedure was in storage, a technician removed twenty-four bolts securing an adapter plate to it without documenting the action. The team subsequently using the cart to turn the satellite failed to check the bolts, as specified in the procedure, before attempting to move the satellite.[13] Repairs to the satellite cost $135 million. Lockheed Martin agreed to forfeit all profit from the project to help pay for repair costs; they later took a $30 million charge relating to the incident. The remainder of the repair costs were paid by the United States government.[14]




Cyborg Rocketeer
Staff member
Global Mod
Jan 5, 2009
Reaction score
Alliance, Ohio
I wonder if the offending technician remained in their employ?


Amateur Professional
TRF Supporter
Jan 30, 2016
Reaction score
This was a series of pretty egregious life-safety infractions; removing load-bearing bolts without logging, moving the assembly without checking the bolts, tipping the unchecked unbolted assembly, probably others.

I'd bet around three people got the sack for willfully / carelessly violating documented safety protocol thereby endangering the whole team. And, y'know, a bazillion dollars.

I'd guess a savvy fast-moving manager fired all three as quickly as feasible while treading water on the renegotiation side so they could show they were being Tough On Crime.

But that's a whole lot of supposition.


Pop lugs, not drugs
Oct 15, 2016
Reaction score
Huntsville AL
I showed this to a coworker with a past at LM for laughs.
'Hey ____, wasn't this you guys?'
"Nope, I worked Martin Marrieta. Sunnyvale's where all the Lockheed kooks were...."