Press Release

NASA OIG Review of NASA’s Microgravity Flight Services

By SpaceRef Editor
June 18, 2010
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NASA OIG Review of NASA’s Microgravity Flight Services

NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin released a report today that examines the performance of Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero G), a private company hired by NASA to provide reduced gravity flights for NASA research, engineering, and astronaut training.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that Zero G has provided inconsistent levels of microgravity flight services since it began providing NASA with reduced gravity flights in August 2008. Consequently, the OIG concluded that NASA should revise the contract’s performance-based payment structure to motivate Zero G to provide more consistent, high-quality microgravity flights.

For example, during Zero G’s first 9 flight weeks, the percentage of parabolas (maneuvers used by specially trained pilots to create brief periods of weightlessness) that met contract specifications varied from approximately 38 percent to 84 percent. However, under the terms of the contract Zero G receives 100 percent of the negotiated hourly rate if the contractor flies only 60 percent successful parabolas, and 80 percent to 90 percent of the hourly rate when Zero G flies just 30 percent to 59 percent successful parabolas. While this payment structure was originally designed to encourage bidding on the contract, the agreement has resulted in Zero G earning approximately 94 percent of the value of the task orders even though the company exceeded an 80 percent successful parabola rate during only 2 of its 9 flight weeks.

The OIG also found that NASA had not implemented a risk management plan that adequately identified and mitigated risks associated with the possibility of Zero G not providing NASA with microgravity flight services in the future. In addition, the OIG review found that NASA’s payments to Zero G of approximately $2 million over a two-year period were in accordance with the contract terms, with the exception of a $23,000 overpayment that was due to math errors.

The OIG recommended that NASA negotiate a revised performance-based payment structure to provide greater incentives for Zero G to deliver more consistent, high-quality microgravity flight services; develop a risk management plan for meeting NASA’s microgravity flight needs if Zero G is unwilling or unable to do so; and, implement additional controls to detect and prevent errors when calculating payments to contractors. NASA generally agreed with the recommendations.

The report can be found on the OIG’s website at under “Reading Room” or at the following link:

SpaceRef staff editor.