NASA Supplier Banned For Likely Supplying SpaceX With Dirty Rocket Fuel 

SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage inside view
A view from inside the Falcon 9's second stage liquid oxygen tank during SpaceX's CRS-15 mission to he International Space Station in 2015. Image: SpaceX

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A fuel shipment contractor working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was fined and banned from working with federal contractors by a judge earlier this week after it admitted to fraud and falsifying records. The contractor is a trucking company that transported fuel for both NASA and Pentagon rocket launches, and it had been working with the government agencies for eight years. Its vehicles also supplied fuel for SpaceX launches and after the decision given by a district judge on Thursday, the company will be unable to procure any contracts from federal government agencies.

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Details of the decision were shared by the attorney's office for the Southern District of Texas and they revealed that the company's representatives admitted to falsifying records. The chief federal law enforcement officer for the Southern district Jennifer B. Lowery made the announcement, as she shared that the representatives of Anahuac Transport Inc, a liquid chemical and petroleum transportation services provider headquartered in Hankamer, Texas had accepted that their company had potentially delivered contaminated rocket fuel for NASA and Pentagon launches.

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Anahuac's representatives, Gary Monteau and Brant Charpiot made the statements before the court in February and at the same time, they also agreed to forfeit $251,401 that the company had earned as part of its supply duties. District judge Alfred Bennet announced his decision for their activities on Friday as he sentenced the company to probation and imposed an additional fine.

This probation bans Anahuac from working with federal agencies, such as NASA and the Pentagon, for three years and also ordered that the company pay $275,000 as a fine. In his remarks, he noted that the company had violated and abused the privilege of working with the U.S. space program, adding that NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is part of the city's identity and that the company had failed to appreciate the significance of its partnership.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carries astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in April this year. Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The press release went on to add that NASA and the Pentagon had entered into contracts with companies such as SpaceX for their launches, and that the government agencies had also subcontracted Anahuac to transport the fuel through its tankers to the NASA partners. In addition to SpaceX, the Pentagon also works with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for launching its satellites but the company's name was absent from the attorney's office.

Detailing the violation committed by the transportation provider, the press release outlined that Anuahac was required to ensure that its vehicles and tankers supplying rocket fuel had not previously transported chemicals that might contaminate the fuel. However, while the company falsified its records to show that this had been the case, in reality, the equipment used to transport rocket fuel had indeed transported the chemicals.

The fuel transported by these trailers was then used by NASA for its rocket launches. Judging the wording of the release, it appears as if the Pentagon did not use any contaminated fuel for rocket launches, however, the statement does not directly state this fact.

SpaceX uses its Falcon 9 rocket powered by the Merlin 1D engine to conduct flights for NASA. This engine uses Rocket Propellant 1 (RP-1 or kerosene) as its fuel and liquid Oxygen as the oxidizer to light the fuel on fire. Kerosene for rocket use is required to be free of contaminants such as Sulphur and other compounds such as olefin and aromatics. High amounts of Sulphur can damage the rocket engine and result in dirty exhaust alongside creating other dangerous problems. The rest can end up blocking an engine's cooling tubes since these also use fuel before it is burned to provide thrust.

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