On Thursday, NASA's inspector general issued a report on the space agency's commercial crew program, which seeks to pay Boeing and SpaceCK for the development of astronaut transport vehicles to the International Space Station.
While the report cites the usual technical problems companies have with developing their own Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, the discussion of costs is much brighter. Namely, the report for the first time announces estimated seat prices, and also explores the extent to which Boeing went on to extract more money from NASA over and above its fixed price award.
The Boeing price for one seat already seemed to cost more than SpaceX. The company received a total of $ 4.88 billion from NASA during the commercial crews program, compared to $ 3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time, the government announced a price for one seat: $ 90m for Starliner and $ 55m for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission.
What is notable about the price of Boeing is that it is also higher than what NASA paid the Russian space corporation, Roskosmos, for Soyuz spacecraft to fly astronauts from the United States and partners to the space station. In total, NASA paid Russia an average seat price of $ 55.4 million for 70 completed and planned missions from 2006 to 2020. As of 2017, NASA has paid an average of $ 79.7 million.
In addition to these seat prices, Inspector General Paul Martin's report also notes that Boeing received additional funding from NASA over and above its fixed-price award.
"We found that NASA agreed to pay an additional $ 287.2 million over Boeing fixed rates to mitigate the perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights scheduled for 2019 and to ensure that the contractor continues as a second commercial provider. teams, without offering similar opportunities to SpaceX, "the report said.
According to Martin, who had extensive access to NASA officials in preparing the report, Boeing in 2016 proposed pricing for its third through six customized missions using the "mission-only price for 2016", which is significantly higher than NASA and Boeing initially In response, NASA's Procurement Cabinet found that it "does not comply with the terms of the contract and does not comply with the fixed-price contract table".
However, Boeing continued to push NASA for additional funding. Following the "prolonged negotiations," according to Martin, Boeing offered some benefits to NASA, such as reduced lead time before missions and variable starting cadence. NASA then agreed to pay an additional $ 287.2m for these four missions, which are likely to fly in the early 2020s.
Perhaps the most striking explanation for the approval of the additional funds was that Boeing may have been discussing the withdrawal of the Commercial Teams Program (CCP). Martin writes: "According to several NASA officials, the important consideration for paying Boeing such a premium was to ensure the contractor continued as a second crew carrier. CCP officials cited NASA's instruction to maintain two US commercial crews to provide surplus transport as part of the rationale for approving the purchase of all four higher-priced missions. "
Boeing spokesman Josh Barrett has denied that Boeing has threatened to end the involvement of commercial teams. "Boeing has made significant investments in the commercial crew program, and we are fully committed to flying the SST-100 Starlin and maintaining the International Space Station fully operational and operational," he told Ars.
The report notes that while NASA agreed to pay Boeing extra for these benefits, a similar deal was not offered to SpaceX. "Conversely, SpaceX was not notified of this change in requirements and was not afforded the opportunity to propose similar opportunities that could result in less cost or wider mission flexibility," Martin writes.