Space Station:

Russian-Built and Service Module Compliance With Safety Requirements

NSIAD-00-96R: Published: Apr 28, 2000. Publicly Released: May 10, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on Russian compliance with space station safety requirements, focusing on whether: (1) the Russian-built Zarya and the Service Module comply with safety requirements; (2) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved any waivers of safety requirements; and (3) NASA was due any compensation from the Zarya contractor for items that did not meet safety requirements or had performance problems.

GAO noted that: (1) although Russian elements comply with the majority of space station safety requirements, Zarya and the Service Module still do not meet some important requirements; (2) according to NASA safety officials, significant areas of noncompliance include: (a) inadequate shielding from orbital debris on the Service Module; (b) inability of Zarya and the Service Module to operate if they lose cabin pressure; and (c) excessive noise levels in Zarya and the Service Module; (3) in addition, NASA still needs to complete its review of the Service Module windows to determine whether the design complies with safety requirements; (4) NASA officials said that shortfalls in Russian funding, designs based on existing Russian hardware, and technical disagreements with Russian engineers are the main reasons these modules do not comply with safety requirements; (5) NASA approved waivers of safety requirements for the Zarya module after NASA determined that the risks were acceptable, allowing Zarya to be launched, but it has not yet approved all waivers needed to launch the Service Module; (6) in addition, NASA must complete its review of the design of the Service Module's windows before the module can be launched; (7) part of NASA's rationale for approving the launch of elements that do not fully comply with safety requirements is that it expects deficiencies to be corrected after the modules are in orbit and exposure to increased risk to last only a limited time; (8) however, correcting deficiencies after modules are launched can take longer than planned, can be more difficult than on the ground, and can affect other activities such as research; (9) the four most significant cases in which Zarya did not meet safety requirements or had performance problems did not warrant compensation from the contractor; (10) two cases--inability to operate in the event of loss of pressure and excessive noise--involved waivers of safety requirements; (11) the other two cases--defective batteries and crew health problems initially attributed to poor air quality--involved performance problems in orbit; (12) the contractor agreed to reduce noise levels and replace the batteries at no charge to NASA; and (13) the two other problems did not result from failure to meet contractual requirements: (a) the specifications for Zarya exempted the module from fully meeting space station requirements to operate after loss of pressure; and (b) NASA determined that air quality inside Zarya was not the cause of health symptoms reported by the crew.

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