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NASA is paying Boeing twice as much as SpaceX for its manned flights

Capitalism in space: in an excellent analysis of the total amount NASA will pay both SpaceX and Boeing for all their manned flights to ISS before the station retires, Eric Berger at Ars Technica has determined that the agency will essentially pay Boeing twice as much per flight.

In 2014, NASA narrowed the crew competition to just two companies, Boeing and SpaceX. At that time, the space agency awarded Boeing $4.2 billion in funding for development of the Starliner spacecraft and six operational crew flights. Later, in an award that NASA’s own inspector general described as “unnecessary,” NASA paid Boeing an additional $287.2 million. This brings Boeing’s total to $4.49 billion, although Finch told Ars that Boeing’s contract value as of August 1, 2022, is $4.39 billion.

For the same services, development of Crew Dragon and six operational missions, NASA paid SpaceX $2.6 billion. After its initial award, NASA has agreed to buy an additional eight flights from SpaceX—Crew-7, -8, -9, -10, -11, -12, -13, and -14—through the year 2030. This brings the total contract awarded to SpaceX to $4.93 billion.

Since we now know how many flights each company will be providing NASA through the lifetime of the International Space Station, and the full cost of those contracts, we can break down the price NASA is paying each company per seat by amortizing the development costs.

Boeing, in flying 24 astronauts, has a per-seat price of $183 million. SpaceX, in flying 56 astronauts during the same time frame, has a seat price of $88 million. Thus, NASA is paying Boeing 2.1 times the price per seat that it is paying SpaceX, inclusive of development costs incurred by NASA.

Despite the larger payments to Boeing, the company could very well lose money on Starliner. The higher cost to NASA from Boeing is due almost entirely because the agency was absorbing more of its initial development cost. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule had already been flying cargo missions to ISS when these manned contracts were awarded. SpaceX merely had to upgrade its manned capsule. Boeing had to design and build it from scratch. Moreover, the contracts were fixed price, which means Boeing had to absorb more than a half billion in additional costs when it had to refly the unmanned demo flight of Starliner.

Finally, because of the delays, Boeing won less NASA business. It also has gotten none of the private commercial manned flights that are going on right now. Those contracts went to SpaceX, including all the profits. Whether Boeing can eventually win some private contracts down the road is unknown. It will certainly have to lower its price to compete with SpaceX.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

13 comments

  • Patrick Underwood

    I’ll say it now with extreme confidence: Boeing will never sell a commercial Starliner flight. Not only because nobody would be dumb enough to purchase a ride from Boeing when it could buy a much cheaper and more accommodating ride from SpaceX, but also because Boeing doesn’t care about commercial sales of Starliner—no matter what the marketing department says. Boeing’s entire purpose was to secure a sole-source quasi-cost-plus contract, under the guise of a fixed-price arrangement, with help from its bought-and-paid-for Congressional reps. And in fact NASA gave them extra funds (nearly 300M, iirc) improperly. But with their now-dysfunctional corporate culture, they lost, utterly. Their sure-fire bet didn’t pay off. Only the aforementioned marketing department and wishful thinking persuades upper management to stick with the program—for now. Expect more political shenanigans, with eventual failure nonetheless.

  • Ray Van Dune

    All this presumes there are any significant number of successful Starliner manned flights at all. What happens if one or more of the upcoming scheduled astronauts says to management: “Replace me on this flight and shift me to the Dragon roster, or I walk, and say why.”

    Think it might not happen? It would if I was on the roster.

  • Doug Booker

    There are no remaining man-rated Atlas boosters left from ULA. So how could there be any expectation of winning any private commercial flights. Unfortunately Nasa will probably shovel pork to ULA to man rate the Vulcan and Blue Origin to man rate New Glenn with the excuse of having to have an alternative to SpaceX. Then since the Starliner abort system can’t use fairings there will have to be some kind of abort testing. Again Nasa will be wasting our taxpayer money this.

  • Ray Vane Dune: I strongly suspect some astronauts have already done exactly what you say. In October ’20 Boeing’s planned commander for the first mission stepped down because he claimed the flight would prevent him from attending his daughter’s wedding. In October ’21 NASA shifted the planned first Starliner crew to a Dragon mission in order to get them in space instead of doing nothing while Starliner remain grounded. Later, NASA reduced the crew for the first flight from 3 to 2.

    In all these cases, there are totally logical reasons for the crew changes that could have nothing to do with a reluctance to fly on Starliner. It is also quite possible that this reluctance, unstated publicly, contributed to the changes.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Bob, you said “In all these cases, there are totally logical reasons for the crew changes that could have nothing to do with a reluctance to fly on Starliner.”

    Exactly, this is the posture that a professional would have to take in order to avoid being shut out of ever flying anything. But while they can fool the public, you can bet that the message is loud and clear within the corps.

    As for a commander giving up a spaceflight to attend a daughter’s wedding, that just doesn’t pass the smell test! No real astronaut would make that choice, and furthermore, no real astronaut’s daughter would ask him to!

  • GaryMike

    I’m encouraging Boeing to rename Starliner to Starliner 777.

  • Mike Borgelt

    “I’m encouraging Boeing to rename Starliner to Starliner 777.”

    Starliner 666 might be more like it.

  • David

    GaryMike – Did you mean 787? The 777 is the opposite of the troubled 787 program imo.

  • George C

    Perhaps the best engineers at the company get to work on the X37. That line of development seems the most likely to turn into a workhorse. Think adaptations to exploration of Venus and Jupiter.

  • GaryMike

    David,

    787? You’re correct.

    Personal inaccuracy due to personal indifference.

    Totally loved the 747: of a time when Boeing actually earned our respect for accomplishment and our corresponding need for accuracy.

  • David

    GaryMike –

    You’re 100% right about the 747 and that time in the company’s (and our) history!

    Cheers!

  • pzatchok

    Anything to keep your friends ,buddies and your next job open.

  • Jeff Wright

    To George C

    You are probably right. Now if only they ran the company. Boeing needs its own Musk.

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