NASA will pay Boeing more than twice as much as SpaceX for crew seats

Enlarge / The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA confirmed Wednesday that it has awarded 5 further crew transportation missions to SpaceX, and its Crew Dragon car, to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. This brings to 14 the full variety of crewed missions that SpaceX is contracted to fly for NASA by 2030.

As beforehand reported by Ars, these are possible the ultimate flights NASA must maintain the area station totally occupied into the yr 2030. While there are not any worldwide agreements but signed, NASA has signaled that it want to proceed flying the orbiting laboratory till 2030 , by which period one or more US industrial area stations must be operational in low Earth orbit.

Under the brand new settlement, SpaceX would fly 14 crewed missions to the station on Crew Dragon, and Boeing would fly six throughout the lifetime of the station. That could be sufficient to fill all of NASA’s wants, which embrace two launches a yr, carrying 4 astronauts every. But NASA has an choice to purchase more seats from both supplier.

“NASA may have a need for additional crew flights to the International Space Station beyond the missions the agency has purchased to date,” company spokesman Josh Finch informed Ars. “The current sole source modification for SpaceX does not preclude NASA from seeking future contract modifications for additional transportation services, as needed.”

Price and efficiency

In its announcement of the seat buy NASA didn’t elaborate on its causes for buying 14 missions from SpaceX and simply six from Boeing. However, this determination to purchase the entire remaining seats from SpaceX is probably going as a consequence of previous efficiency and worth. SpaceX began flying operational missions to the area station in 2020, with the Crew-1 mission. Although Boeing’s Starliner has a crewed check flight early subsequent yr, possible in February, its first operational mission will not come earlier than the second half of 2023.

Additionally, there may be some query in regards to the availability of rockets for Starliner. Boeing has bought sufficient Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance for six operational Starliner missions, however after that the Atlas V will be retired. During a information convention final week, Boeing’s program supervisor for industrial crew, Mark Nappi, stated the corporate is taking a look at “different options” for Starliner launch automobiles. These choices embrace shopping for a Falcon 9 from a competitor, SpaceX, paying United Launch Alliance to human-rate its new Vulcan rocket, or paying Blue Origin for its forthcoming New Glenn booster.

Whatever NASA’s final causes, it’s clear in hindsight that the area company has gotten a much higher deal from SpaceX within the industrial crew competitors.

There are a number of methods to evaluate the true prices of this system to NASA, however most likely the only approach is including up the cash NASA awarded every firm for improvement of their crewed spacecraft and for flying operational missions and dividing that by the variety of seats bought over the lifetime of this system. Recall that every of the 2 spacecraft, Boeing’s Starliner car and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, is rated to hold 4 astronauts for NASA.

In 2014, NASA narrowed the crew competitors to simply two firms, Boeing and SpaceX. At that point, the area company awarded Boeing $4.2 billion in funding for improvement of the Starliner spacecraft and 6 operational crew flights. Later, in an award that NASA’s personal inspector normal described as “unnecessary,” NASA paid Boeing an additional $287.2 million. This brings Boeing’s whole to $4.49 billion, though Finch informed Ars that Boeing’s contract worth as of August 1, 2022, is $4.39 billion.

For the identical companies, improvement of Crew Dragon and 6 operational missions, NASA paid SpaceX $2.6 billion. After its preliminary award, NASA has agreed to purchase an extra eight flights from SpaceXCrew-7, -8, -9, -10, -11, -12, -13, and -14through the yr 2030. This brings the full contract awarded to SpaceX to $4.93 billion.

Costs to NASA

Since we now know what number of flights every firm will be offering NASA by the lifetime of the International Space Station, and the total value of these contracts, we will break down the worth NASA is paying every firm per seat by amortizing the event prices.

Boeing, in flying 24 astronauts, has a per-seat worth of $183 million. SpaceX, in flying 56 astronauts throughout the identical time-frame, has a seat worth of $88 million. Thus, NASA is paying Boeing 2.1 occasions the worth per seat that it’s paying SpaceX, inclusive of improvement prices incurred by NASA.

From these numbers it could look like Boeing is profiteering from a authorities program, however that’s possible not the case. Commercial crew is a fixed-price program, which implies the businesses are accountable for overruns. Boeing has already reported about half a billion {dollars} in costs because of the must refuse an uncrewed Starliner demonstration mission. Two sources informed Ars this system has been a money-loser for Boeing, as it has struggled to handle the transition from cost-plus to fixed-price contracts.

Still, Boeing’s participation has been important for NASA, each in fostering competitors and in securing congressional funding. The NASA administrator on the time the event contracts had been awarded in 2014, Charles Bolden, confirmed this throughout an interview in 2020. He stated Congress wouldn’t have funded the industrial crew program had Boeing not bid alongside SpaceX.

“Boeing was a dream,” Bolden told Aviation Week. “I call them a champion in being willing to accept the risk for a program whose business case didn’t close back then. And I’ll be blunt. I don’t know whether the business case closes today.”


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