Mon. Sep 26th, 2022
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after landing in White Sands, New Mexico, on Sunday, December 22, 2019.
enlarge The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after landing in White Sands, New Mexico, on Sunday, December 22, 2019.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Much has been said about Boeing’s problems in aviation, particularly with the 737 Max. The plane has been grounded for a year after two crashes that killed 346 people, making it the worst air disaster since September 11, 2001.

Then there are the issues with the company’s KC-46 Pegasus tanker program, which is $3 billion over budget, three years behind schedule and plagued by technical difficulties. Most recently, in March, the Air Force revealed it had upgraded chronic leaks in the plane’s fuel system to a Category I deficiency. This is a problem for an aircraft that is supposed to be refueling air.

Since December, the company’s space problems have also become more widely known after the failure of the company’s Starliner capsule to successfully conduct a test flight to the International Space Station. NASA labeled this aborted mission, in which the spacecraft was nearly lost twice, a “high-visibility close call.” The company has agreed to a second test flight without crew to ensure the safety of Starliner.

But a new document released by NASA reveals the wider scope of Boeing’s apparent decline in spaceflight dominance. NASA’s “source-selection statement” explains the space agency’s reason for choosing SpaceX over three other companies — Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Corporation — for putting large amounts of cargo into orbit around the moon. NASA announced the selection of SpaceX for this “Gateway Logistics” contract in late March. The selection paper says that SpaceX delivered the best engineering approach and lowest price by a “significant” margin.

This lunar freight contract is essentially the third in a series of three “commercial” contracts that NASA has offered over the past twelve years to purchase services at a fixed price. First, the cargo delivery came to low Earth orbit. The final selections for that program were SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, a company now owned by Northrop Grumman, in 2008. The second was the delivery of the crew to low Earth orbit in 2014. The final selections were SpaceX and Boeing. , with its now troubled Starliner spacecraft.

Compare selection notes

When comparing the selection rationale for the 2014 commercial crew contracts with the rationale for the recent Logistics Gateway contract, the perception of Boeing’s offering couldn’t be more grim. In 2014, Boeing was very much seen as the gold standard – expensive, yes, but also technically masterful. In 2020, the company was still experienced as expensive, but ultimately not worth considering.

The analysis of the 2014 crew contract, written by William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s then chief of human spaceflight, regularly praises Boeing for its technical and management expertise. “This is a very comprehensive, credible plan,” Gerstenmaier wrote. He described their previous work in the commercial crew program as “excellent and effective”, while delivering “high quality products with sufficient detail”.

In the analysis, which compared Boeing to SpaceX and the third competitor in the crew program, Sierra Nevada, Boeing received the highest marks. “Boeing’s proposal had the highest overall Mission Suitability score and the highest adjectives of Excellent for each of the two most heavily weighted sub-factors, Technical and Management,” Gerstenmaier wrote. “I agree with this assessment.” In the latest crew development awards, Boeing received $4.2 billion from NASA and SpaceX $2.6 billion, reflecting Boeing’s much higher cost at the time.

Six years later, the perception of Boeing’s bid for the moon freight contract has changed dramatically. Of the four contenders, it had the lowest overall technical and mission suitability scores. In addition, Boeing’s proposal was characterized as “inaccurate” and lacking “significant strengths”. Boeing was also quoted as having a “significant weakness” in its proposal to cut back on providing its software source code.

Because of the high price and the unsuitable proposal for the lunar freight contract, NASA did not even consider the proposal with the final bidders. In his review late last year, NASA’s Acting Head of Manned Spaceflight Ken Bowersox wrote: “Since Boeing’s proposal was the highest priced and lowest rated under the Mission Suitability factor, while additionally offering a conditional fixed price, I decided to eliminate Boeing from further consideration.”

NASA is currently in the final throes of deciding how it will get humans to the lunar surface by 2024. It is noteworthy that the most likely scenario is that the crew and a lander are launched on the same rocket, which would require Boeing to both complete the Space Launch. The core stage of the system rocket – which has been in development for nearly a decade now – as well as a brand new second stage previously dubbed the Exploration Upper Stage.

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.