Space Project Testing:

Uniform Policies and Added Controls Would Strengthen Testing Activities

NSIAD-91-248: Published: Sep 16, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) testing activities, focusing on: (1) the adequacy of the NASA testing policies and practices; (2) NASA oversight of contractor testing; and (3) the adequacy of resources available for testing.

GAO found that: (1) although space systems testing varies from project to project, many of the recent NASA space projects have accomplished or are expected to accomplish their mission objectives; (2) 7 of the 10 NASA-developed payloads placed in orbit between January 1986 and December 1990 have met their initial mission objectives; (3) because NASA did not have uniform, agencywide policy guidance for testing space systems, its existing guidance was fragmented, not well defined, and varied between NASA field centers; (4) NASA policies did not require a comprehensive test plan for each project to show how performance requirements were validated, to define responsibilities for testing, or to identify any limitations in the testing program; (5) hardware designed for the same mission may be tested to different standards, since testing criteria differ from center to center; (6) although all centers have oversight controls to help ensure that contractors properly plan and conduct tests and report the results, some controls at some centers could be further strengthened; (7) NASA needs to retain more of its research and development work in-house to provide the needed hands-on opportunities for civil service personnel and to adequately oversee agency contractors; and (8) although resources were normally sufficient to conduct essential tests, no standard criterion existed for judging the adequacy of funds spent on testing.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should: (1) issue testing policies that define the NASA testing goals; (2) establish agencywide minimum requirements for space system test programs; and (3) define organizational roles and responsibilities for ensuring that tests are properly planned, conducted, and reported. The policy should require officials to prepare a comprehensive test plan for each project showing how each performance requirement will be validated and the controls established to ensure that validation activities are properly planned, conducted, and reported.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1993, NASA issued Handbook 7120.5 entitled "Management of Major System Programs and Projects." The applicable chapters of this handbook addressed the GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should develop agencywide test standards to ensure consistent qualification and acceptance testing for all hardware.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1993, NASA issued Handbook 7120.5 entitled "Management of Major System Programs and Projects." The applicable chapters of this handbook addressed the GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should require that all centers: (1) approve contractor-prepared test plans and procedures for critical tests; (2) implement procedures for independent reviews of testing on all major programs; and (3) review each project to determine if adequate personnel with needed skills are available to monitor critical contractor tests.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1993, NASA issued Handbook 7120.5 entitled "Management of Major System Programs and Projects." The applicable chapters of this handbook addressed the GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should require that each project test plan fully disclose any testing limitation that increases technical risk and describe actions to be taken to minimize the risk.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1993, NASA issued Handbook 7120.5 entitled "Management of Major System Programs and Projects." The applicable chapters of this handbook addressed the GAO recommendation.

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