NOVEMBER 15 (UPI) — NASA’S INSPECTOR GENERAL ON THURSDAY RELEASED AN AUDIT REPORT ON ITS “COMMERCIAL ASTRONAUT PROGRAM”, WHICH AIMS TO FUND BOEING AND SPACEX TO DEVELOP SPACECRAFT THAT WILL SEND ASTRONAUTS TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, FOREIGN MEDIA REPORTED.
Pictured: Boeing (top) and SpaceX (bottom) of manned spacecraft
The report lists common technical problems the two companies encountered in developing spacecraft, and compares their development costs. Notably, the report, which for the first time published estimates of the cost of sending astronauts into space, shows that Boeing is extracting more money from NASA in addition to its fixed income.
Boeing received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the entire reporting cycle, compared with $3.14 billion for SpaceX. Moreover, Boeing’s price per seat appears to be higher than that of SpaceX, which has $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for SpaceX’s manned Dragon spacecraft. Both spacecraft are expected to carry four astronauts to the space station.
Figure: Comparison of basic parameters for Boeing Starliner and SpaceX manned Dragon spacecraft
It’s worth noting that Boeing’s seat is even more expensive than NASA’s Russian “boat ticket.” Overall, from 2006 to 2020, NASA paid Russia 70 completed and planned missions at an average cost of $55.4 million per seat. Since 2017, NASA has paid an average of $79.7 million.
In addition to the seat prices, Inspector General Paul Martin noted in the report that Boeing received additional funding from NASA that went far beyond its contract. THE REPORT SHOWS THAT NASA AGREED TO PAY AN ADDITIONAL $287.2 MILLION ABOVE BOEING’S FIXED PRICE TO HELP THE LATTER ADVANCE THE SCHEDULE AND ENSURE THAT SPACEX DID NOT GET A SIMILAR OPPORTUNITY AS A PROVIDER OF A SECOND COMMERCIAL ASTRONAUT PROGRAM.
Martin, who was in extensive contact with NASA officials at the time of the report, said Boeing’s pricing for its third to sixth manned mission in 2016 was still a “2016 mission offer,” much higher than the original agreement reached between NASA and Boeing. In response, NASA’s procurement office determined that this was “inconsistent with the terms of the contract and does not match the fixed price list of the contracts”.
Boeing, however, continues to press NASA for more money. Martin noted that after “lengthy negotiations,” Boeing offered NASA certain benefits, such as reducing pre-mission preparation time and adopting a variable launch schedule. NASA then agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million to support its four missions, which could take place in the early 2020s.
Figure 1: Teams from NASA, Boeing and the White Sands Missile Range are conducting a landing exercise on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner
Perhaps the most striking reason for NASA’s approval of the extra funding is that Boeing could threaten to pull out of the commercial astronaut program. “Several NASA officials believe that an important consideration in paying Boeing such a premium is to ensure that the contractor continues to be a supplier to the second commercial astronaut program,” Martin wrote. Maintaining both suppliers helps ensure the smooth running of the task. “
Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett denied that the company had threatened to end the commercial astronaut program. “Boeing has invested a lot of money, and we’re fully committed to building the CST-100 Starliner and we want to keep the crew on the International Space Station and operational,” he said. “
The report notes that while NASA agreed to pay Boeing extra for the benefits, it did not offer a similar deal for SpaceX. “In contrast, SpaceX has not been notified of changes to its program and has not had the opportunity to make similar claims, even though these changes could lead to lower costs for commercial astronaut programs and increased mission flexibility,” Martin wrote. “