Boeing has wasted 5 billion on Starliner (and has still not managed to take astronauts to the ISS like SpaceX)

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When the United States retired the Space Shuttle in 2011 it became completely dependent on Russia to take astronauts into space . It is an at least curious scenario in which the main economic, military and technological force in the world had given up the strategic capacity to carry out manned flights to orbit using its own resources.

That disadvantageous situation in which the country found itself would be momentary. NASA had begun working on the Commercial Crew Program (CCDev), a public-private model that sought to offer a regular transportation service between orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) much more economical, versatile and safe than the complex ones. and expensive ferries.

SpaceX and Boeing, two key companies for US space independence

After several stages, NASA selected two companies in 2014 to “end the nation’s exclusive dependence on Russia in 2017.” SpaceX, a firm founded by Elon Musk in 2022, and Boeing, an aerospace giant with more than eighty years of experience, signed contracts to complete at least one manned test flight to the ISS with their own capsules.

Although both contractors, in theory, have had the same starting point, they have not reached the finish line at the same time. In fact, we have one of them who has not yet managed to complete the most important requirement of this race: taking a NASA astronaut to the ISS, and we are talking about Boeing and its Starliner capsule, a project that has become a pain. head.

While SpaceX, with a budget of approximately $3 billion, has managed to pass all the necessary tests to certify its Dragon capsule , and is already carrying out regular flights, Boeing has received about $5 billion from the program and, for now, is still is fighting for its Starliner capsule to complete its first manned test flight.

It’s no secret that space programs are often characterized by delays and cost overruns, but the difference between SpaceX and Boeing right now is notable. Not only at the level of results, but also at the budget level. The latter has received much more money than its competitor and, if that were not enough, it has had to assume 1.4 billion extra costs .

In an interview with The Washington Post , the recently appointed head of Boeing Exploration Systems, John Shannon, has assured that the firm remains committed to the program. The executive, however, has pointed out that the more than a billion dollars that have had to come out of the company’s coffers to support the development of the Starliner are a worrying problem.

Asked whether the Starliner program would continue in the long term, presumably creating variants of the capsule to meet NASA’s future needs, Shannon said he “wish I had an answer right now.” As we can see, Boeing seems completely focused on making the capsule complete its first manned flight, at least to fulfill the contract.

In December 2019, Boeing failed in its mission to complete the first unmanned test flight of the Starliner. The capsule reached orbit, but was unable to dock with the ISS . After addressing an issue with the service mode propulsion system valves, the capsule lifted off in May 2022 and was able to successfully complete its first uncrewed test flight.

After that very important achievement, everything seemed to indicate that the Starliner would make its first test flight in April 2023, a date that was modified to July of the same year . Now, after several technical and administrative difficulties, the date has been postponed once again, and the launch is scheduled for the first quarter of 2024. Over time we will know if the project will be able to take off.

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