Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be in the middle of a price war, with both sides hoping to pay U.S. taxpayers for the service of people to the International Space Station. NASA’s inspector general revealed this week that the agency has provided Boeing with an additional $287.2 million to develop a commercial manned program that would reduce U.S. dependence on Russia.
NASA will pay Boeing $90 million per seat to bring astronauts to the Orbital Research Laboratory, a fee 60 percent higher than the $55 million SpaceX Crew Dragon ships charge for the same service, according to a inspector general report released Thursday. Boeing’s single-seat price is also about $10 million higher than Russia’s current charges.
“It doesn’t seem right. “It means it’s unfair that Boeing can take so much more money on the same thing,” Musk tweeted in response to Ars Technica’s report on the payment. ”
On Friday, SpaceX did not respond to questions about whether it would protest the payment to Boeing or whether it would seek additional funding. “Nothing is more important to our company than manned spaceflight, and we look forward to safely sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and returning from the International Space Station early next year,” SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson said in an email Thursday. ”
NASA is considering buying two more $80 million seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft next fall and spring 2021 due to delays in the U.S. program. So far, NASA has spent $3.9 billion on Russian spacecraft to transport 70 astronauts.
Joshua Barrett, a Boeing spokesman, said in an email that the $287.2 million in additional funds paid to Boeing was the result of “fair and open negotiations.” He said Boeing had taken on “significantly greater upfront financial risk” in the project, a payment that would help ensure NASA had the flexibility needed to adjust the launch date.
Ken Bowersox, NASA’s acting deputy director for human exploration and operations, said in a November 8 letter to the inspector general that the agency believes Boeing’s pricing “represents the appropriate value of the mission.” He said there was no evidence to support the auditor’s conclusion that Boeing would have been willing to accept less money.
The attorney general’s report also said THAT NASA paid additional funds to keep Boeing as a contractor for the program, and that several agency officials “believe that the contractor will not be able to continue to participate in commercial manned projects for economic reasons unless Boeing receives a higher price.” ”
NASA added in an emailed commentary Thursday that the agency “did not offer a price for a possible Boeing exit.” Barrett said Boeing remains “fully committed” to the program and has made a “significant investment” in its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing plans to make its first test flight on December 17. SpaceX completed its unmanned flight test flight in March 2019 and is working to prove that crew Dragon will be manned in 2020.
As of August, NASA had spent $5.5 billion on a commercial manned program that awarded Boeing and SpaceX contracts in September 2014 for a total value of $6.8 billion. Each company will undertake six NASA missions and is expected to carry 48 astronauts by 2024. At the time, Boeing’s $4.2 billion award was $1.6 billion more than NASA’s funding for SpaceX, based on their bid for the job.
The Attorney-General’s report noted that both companies experienced delays of more than two years in spacecraft development.
NASA officials say they want to continue using Soyuz even after the successful operation of the U.S. space shuttle and will allow Russian astronauts to fly on Boeing and SpaceX ships, as required by the crew’s schedule.