Boeing to Charge NASA Much More than SpaceX for ISS Trips

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A Trip to the ISS Could Cost 39% More on a Boeing Starliner Than on a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Two weeks ago, the NASA Inspector General reported that Boeing received an extra $287.2 million for the CST-100 Starliner program. Both the Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will help end NASA’s dependence on Russian Soyuz rockets to get astronauts to the ISS. However, Elon Musk argued via Twitter that the disparity in price to the taxpayers isn’t fair. He doesn’t seem as concerned about the taxpayers so much as he is about SpaceX getting ripped off, though. 

In the tweet, Musk said, “This doesn’t seem right.” He then added, “Meaning not fair that Boeing gets so much more for the same thing.” 

Regardless of where Musk’s personal interests lie, however, he’s not wrong. The final price tag for a flight on a Starliner to the ISS would be $90 million per seat. That’s around $10 million more than we’re currently paying the Russians. By contrast, SpaceX will deliver the same end result for $55 million per seat. 

Contracts, However, Are Contracts

As for recourse, there probably isn’t a whole lot SpaceX can do. They didn’t respond to inquiries about whether they’ll protest the extra payments to Boeing or ask for more money themselves.  What they did say, however, was, “There is nothing more important to our company than human spaceflight, and we look forward to safely flying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station starting early next year.” This from SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson via e-mail.  

Boeing, the long-established aerospace powerhouse, claims that the extra money is justified because they incurred “significantly more up-front financial risk” than the much smaller SpaceX. Boeing spokesman Joshua Barret said also that the extra money came from “fair and open negotiations.” 

For its part, NASA agrees that Boeing’s price tag “represents appropriate value of the missions” per Ken Bowersox. Bowersox is the acting head of human spaceflight for the agency. Bowersox and other NASA officials also deny any consideration that Boeing may pull out of the contract without the additional funding. That in response to an assertion to the contrary in the IG report. The report said the money was awarded because several officials “believed that due to financial considerations, Boeing could not continue as a commercial crew provider unless the contractor received the higher prices.”

In Summary

On the surface, at least, it seems Musk should definitely be upset. And so should the rest of us. On the other hand, without seeing the actual financials, it’s difficult to truly judge what’s what.

In either case, Boing plans to fly Starliner to the ISS next month. That will be the first time the craft has flown, and will be uncrewed. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon already did that in March. Officials at SpaceX say they are on track to start ferrying astronauts early next year.

Boeing is a powerhouse and has significant resources, both in finances and infrastructure. Both Boeing and SpaceX have experienced about two years of delays on their projects. But SpaceX, the much smaller company, will (theoretically) be ready first. NASA is getting the same thing from both providers, but they’re paying Boeing more than the Russians we’re trying to stop paying. I’ll leave the conclusions up to you.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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