NASA is will be paying Boeing twice as much for each Starliner seat to the International Space Station than SpaceX, Ars Technica reports.
International Space Station
NASA revealed five further missions to transfer humans to the International Space Station had been given to SpaceX and its Crew Dragon vehicle. Now until 2030, SpaceX will have flown a total of 14 crewed missions for NASA.
According to Ars, these are the last missions NASA will need to ensure the International Space Station (ISS) is staffed throughout the 2030s. NASA has indicated that it would prefer to keep flying the orbiting laboratory until 2030, by which one or more US commercial space stations should be operational in the lower Earth orbit. Still, no international agreements have yet been struck.
During the station’s operational lifetime, SpaceX will send 14 crewed missions on Crew Dragon, while Boeing will send six. That would be sufficient to meet NASA’s requirements, including two launches each year with four crew capacity. However, NASA can choose to purchase additional seats from either carrier.
NASA spokesperson Josh Finch told Ars that the space agency might require more crew trips to the ISS than it has already purchased. Even though SpaceX is now the only company qualified to provide this change, NASA has the right to request additional transportation service contract modifications in the future.
Value and effectiveness
NASA did not explain in its announcement of the seat acquisition why it had purchased 14 crew seats from SpaceX and just six from Boeing. Despite this, it’s likely that SpaceX’s proven performance and competitive pricing led to the decision to purchase all remaining seats. With the Crew-1 trip in 2020, SpaceX began regular service to the space station. The first commercial flight of Boeing’s Starliner won’t happen until the second half of 2023, although a crewed test flight is scheduled for early next year, probably in February.
Rockets for Starliner have also been called into question. After six successful Starliner trips using Atlas V rockets acquired from United Launch Alliance, Boeing plans to phase out the Atlas V in favor of newer, more advanced rockets. At a press conference last week, Mark Nappi, Boeing’s commercial crew program manager, stated that the company is considering “alternative solutions” for Starliner launch vehicles.
Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn launcher, United Launch Alliance’s human-rating of the Vulcan rocket, and purchasing a Falcon 9 from SpaceX are all viable choices.It’s obvious in retrospect that NASA got a significantly better deal from SpaceX in the commercial crew competition, regardless of the agency’s ultimate motivations.
There are a few ways to calculate how much the program has cost NASA. Still, the simplest way would be to add up the total amount of money NASA has given to each company for developing their crewed spacecraft and for flying operational missions and then divide that total by the total number of seats purchased. Remember that both the Boeing Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon can carry four NASA astronauts.
Nasa Space Agency
NASA chose Boeing and SpaceX as the last two competitors in the crew competition in 2014. The space agency at the time gave Boeing $4.2 billion to create the Starliner spaceship and conduct six test crew missions. In a later “unnecessary” grant, NASA paid Boeing an extra $287.2 million. Although Finch informed Ars that Boeing’s contract value as of August 1, 2022, is $4.39 billion, this raises Boeing’s total to $4.49 billion.
To repeat, NASA paid SpaceX $2.6 billion for the same services, including the development of Crew Dragon and six operational trips. Following the initial award, NASA has committed to purchasing eight further missions from SpaceX through 2030 (Crews 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14). This adds another $4.93 billion to SpaceX’s total contract value.
Expenditure for NASA
Since the total cost of the contracts with each business and the total number of flights they will provide to NASA over the life of the International Space Station are known, the price NASA pays each firm per seat can be calculated by reimbursing the development expenses.
The cost per seat for Boeing to transport 24 astronauts is $183 million. While NASA’s price per seat is $90 million, SpaceX’s per-seat cost is $88 million to transport 56 astronauts in the same time period. Therefore, including NASA’s development expenditures, NASA is paying Boeing 2.1 times as much per seat as it is paying SpaceX.
These figures could lead one to believe that Boeing is making a profit off of a government initiative, but that is probably not the case. Overrun costs for the commercial crew are the responsibility of the companies. Reflying on an uncrewed Starliner demonstration mission has cost Boeing approximately $500 million. According to two anonymous people who spoke with Ars, the program has been a financial loss for Boeing since the company has struggled to successfully move from cost-plus to fixed-price contracts.
Even Nevertheless, Boeing’s involvement has been crucial for NASA, helping to increase competition and gaining support from Congress. In a 2020 interview, Charles Bolden, who was NASA administrator when the development contracts were issued in 2014, acknowledged this.
He claimed that if Boeing hadn’t bid against SpaceX for the commercial crew program, Congress never would have approved it. Bolden stated to Aviation Week, “Boeing was a dream.” “They deserve the title of “hero” since they were ready to take a chance on a program even if the business case hadn’t been finalized at the time. I’ll be honest and direct. I have no idea if today is the final day to submit a business case.”