Boeing "underestimated the design challenge" of developing the Delta III, says an independent review, following the failure of the new launch vehicle on its first two flights in August last year and last May.

An independent mission assurance review team, led by former USAir Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, has concluded "cost and schedule pressures were not factors" in the recent Boeing launch failures. This contrasts with a similar independent review of Lockheed Martin's operations, which blamed "inappropriate cost pressures" for recent launch failures.

Widnall's committee reviewed Boeing's Delta II, III, IV and inertial upper stage (IUS) programmes. While concluding that the company "has a culture that promotes quality engineering and production", the committee says "design engineering processes" were the root cause of the majority of the failures reviewed.

Failure of the first Delta III launch was due to "improper analytic assumptions in the dynamic models and poor communication between two design engineering groups", the committee's report says. "The second Delta III failure and the IUS failure on a Titan IV launch last April were due to a lack of communication between design engineering and manufacturing," says Widnall.

While the current Delta II has an excellent reliability record, the report says "the mission assurance process appropriate to the success of the mature Delta II programme is not adequate for the new Delta III and Delta IV programmes". Evolving from the single to a multiple product line "will require an increasing emphasis of design engineering oversight" and other factors, the report says.

Boeing will have to pay "particular attention" to employee retention as the IUS and Titan IV fairing programmes come to an end, the committee recommends - an issue identified as facing Titan IV manufacturer Lockheed Martin as the programme winds down.

Boeing says that it is implementing the recommendations of the committee.

Source: Flight International