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Home / Science / NASA SpaceX, common sense, overpaid Boeing for astronaut launches, according to the audit

NASA SpaceX, common sense, overpaid Boeing for astronaut launches, according to the audit

An in-depth government review has revealed that NASA has made an effort to over-pay Boeing for launching the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), mocking the fixed-price contract with the company and making SpaceX apparent throughout the process

In recent years, the NASA General Inspector has released a series of reports that are increasingly daunting on Boeing As a NASA contractor, the conduct and track record are the most worrying of all, and the November 14 report is perhaps the most worrying. On November 14, the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a damned audit entitled "NASA Management of Passenger Transportation to the International Space Station [ISS]" (PDF).

With more than 50 pages of detailed behavioral analysis, which was at best incapable and at worst profoundly corrupt, OIG revealed some unpleasant revelations about NASA's relationship with Boeing in a different area than the usual: the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). NASA. The CCP began in the 2010s with the attempt to develop several redundant commercial alternatives to the Space Shuttle. These were prematurely canceled before a US alternative was in sight. In September 2014, she finally placed important development contracts for SpaceX and Boeing.

Approaching Crew Dragon the ISS on March 3rd during DM-1, the debut of the spaceship's unmanned orbital launch. (NASA)
The Starliner spacecraft from Boeing prepares for the flight on November 3rd. (Boeing)

NASA awarded $ 4.2 billion and $ 2.6 billion in fixed-cost contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to achieve substantially the same goals: design, build, test, and Flying new spaceships that NASA astronauts can transport to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The intent of the fixed-price contracts was to hold contractors accountable for any delays in the development of human spacecraft, a task NASA has identified as challenging, but by no means unprecedented.

Off the Rails

Most likely The trigger of the bizarre events that would occur a few years later, began in part on June 28, 2015, culminating on September 1, 2016, the date of the two catastrophic failures, among which the SpaceX missile Falcon 9 has suffered since its debut in 2010. NASA headquarters and CCP managers may have been shaken by a most generous interpretation of the results of the OIG, and may not have thought of a straight keel in just over a year after SpaceX's second major failure.

In these circumstances, the agency could have failed to ignore common sense and due diligence on basic deals, causing "numerous officials" to sign a plan that would undermine Boeing's fixed-price deal and paid the company an additional $ 287 million. Dollars (~ 7%) to prevent a perceived gap in the NASA astronaut business Access to the ISS. This is likely due to NASA's short-term assumption that the SpaceX crashes could lead to delays of several years, making Boeing the only available crew vans provider for a long period of time. Starliner had already been delayed by more than a year, making it increasingly unlikely that Boeing alone could provide NASA with continuous access to the ISS.

As NASA, in its attempt to respond to and defend the audit, argued, "The Final Prize [increase] was agreed by NASA and Boeing and reviewed by numerous NASA officials at the Kennedy Space Center and headquarters and approved. " Perhaps these officials, in the heat of the moment, forgot that Boeing had already bought several Russian Soyuz seats to sell to NASA or tourists, and perhaps these officials overlooked the mere fact that these seats and some basic plan changes almost made the perception could have alleviated completely "access gap" with minimal effort.

The OIG audit further implied that the date of a Boeing proposal – the few days after the agreement submitted to NASA for payment The additional company that was supposed to prevent this access gap was suspect.

"Five days after NASA pledged $ 287.2 million in price increases for four missions from commercial crew members, Boeing made an official proposal to NASA for $ 373.5 million to sell five Soyuz seats for missions in the same period. In total, Boeing received $ 660.7 million over the fixed prices set out in the CCtCap price tables to pay for an accelerated production schedule for four missions and five Soyuz seats. "

NASA OIG – November 14, 2019 [PDF]

In other words, NASA officials did not notice or remember that Boeing was" prolonged negotiations "(p. 24) [p with Boeing owned several Soyuz Seats and subsequently awarded Boeing another $ 287 million to accelerate Starliner production and preparation, thus avoiding an access gap. Next week, Boeing asked NASA if they wanted to buy five Soyuz seats they had already purchased to send NASA astronauts to the ISS.

This series of events contains exactly three explanations, none of which is heartwarming.

  1. Boeing purposely withheld an obvious (partial) solution to a perceived gap in astronaut access to the ISS and exploited NASA's panic to extract a 7% premium from the otherwise fixed Starliner development contract.
  2. Due to gross negligence and lack of due diligence on signing contracts, NASA ignored obvious (and cheaper) possible solutions, took Boeing's word for granted, and opened the piggy bank.
  3. A bizarre "analysis of crew access" The study ignored several obvious and preferred solutions to give "numerous NASA officials" an excuse for violating fixed-price policies and paying a substantial premium to Boeing.

Blackmail with a Kind Smile

The latter explanation Although this may be the worst and most corruptive choice, This is probably the most likely, based on the history of NASA's relationship with Boeing. In fact, a July 2019 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that NASA consistently paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Boeing in the company's SLS Booster production contract (Core Stage) four years behind schedule and $ 1.8 billion over budget. From 2014 to 2018, NASA awarded a total of $ 271 million in prize money to Boeing. This practice should highlight the excellence of a particular contractor.

In some of these years, Boeing's performance was reported by NASA to be "good," "very good," and "excellent," while Boeing repeatedly fined the SLS core stage production and years Delays added to the launch of the SLS rocket. This means that "many NASA officials" were probably more than happy to award hundreds of millions of dollars in prizes to Boeing, even though the company was, and this is undoubtedly a major reason why the SLS program continues to be unsuccessful ,

Boeing completed the most successful Starliner Pad Demolition Test earlier this month, the first integrated flight of a spacecraft of any type.

Eventually, although NASA was concerned about the failure of SpaceX and a combination of inadequacies. Ignorance and corruption all played a clear role. According to NASA's Inspector General SpaceX never approached as part of its 2016/2017 efforts to prevent an "access gap for the occupation." Despite the fact that the CCP has two partners, regardless of the circumstances, this decision was highly inappropriate and even more inexplicable, as NASA was clearly aware that SpaceX's Crew Dragon had significantly shorter lead times and cost far less than Starliner.

This would have meant that NASA had turned to SpaceX to try to narrow the access gap. SpaceX could almost certainly have done this much cheaper and faster, or at least brought in a bit of competition in good faith in the company.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly of all, NASA OIG investigators were told by "several NASA officials" that they – despite several preferred alternatives – finally decided to sign the price increases demanded by Boeing because they feared that Boeing would terminate the Commercial Crew Program completely without this program. Not surprisingly, Boeing and NASA have denied this in their official replies to the OIG audit, but a US government inspector in general would never make such an assertion without substantive trust and plenty of evidence to prove this.

According to OIG sources, "high-ranking CCP officials believed that Boeing would not be able to continue as a commercial occupation provider for financial reasons if the contractor did not receive the higher prices." Much remains unspoken, such as why these officials considered the complete withdrawal of Boeing from the CCP serious and how they came to this conclusion, enough to conclude that Boeing actually threatened with it instead of terminating the payments of NASA.

All in all, these pretty damn revelations should in no way interfere with the excellent work of Boeing engineers and technicians trying to design, build, and market Starliner. However, they serve to draw a line between the settings and motivations of Boeing and SpaceX. One puts profit, shareholders and self into the foreground, while the other endeavors to reduce space costs and enable a sustainable human presence on the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Read Teslarati's Newsletter for quick updates, on-site perspectives, and unique insights into SpaceX's rocket launch and recovery processes .

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