NASA has rejected SpaceX, a common sense for over-pushing Boeing to launch an astronaut, says AC
NASA snubbed SpaceX, common sense to overpay Boeing for astronaut launches, says audit
A detailed government review revealed that NASA did everything possible to pay Boeing for its launch services to the PCC pioneers.
In recent years, NASA’s Inspector General has published a series of increasingly encouraging reports about the behavior and history of Boeing as a NASA contractor, and is perhaps the most alarming report of November 14. On 14 November, the Office of the Inspector General of NASA (OIG) published a conviction review entitled “NASA’s Management of Crew Transportation to the International Space Station [ISS]” (PDF).
Presenting more than 50 pages of detailed behavior analysis that was, at best, incompetent and corrupt, at worst, the OIG analysis revealed an awkward revelation of NASA’s relationship with Boeing in a different world than usual: the Commercial Crew Program (PCC) of NASA. Launched in the 2010s in an effort to develop redundant commercial alternatives to the space shuttle, it was prematurely canceled before there was an American alternative in sight, and CCP finally won the main SpaceX and Boeing development contracts in September 2014 .
NASA awarded fixed cost contracts worth $ 4.2 billion and $ 2.6 billion to Boeing and SpaceX, respectively, to achieve essentially the same objectives: design, build, test and fly new spacecraft capable of transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS)) The intention behind fixed-price contracts was to hold contractors responsible for any delay they might incur in developing spacecraft with human qualification, a task that NASA recognized as a challenge, but that is unprecedented.
OFF THE RAILS
The most likely trigger for the strange events that would take place in the future began in part on June 28, 2015, and culminated on September 1, 2016, the dates of the two catastrophic failures that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket suffered since its debut in 2010. In the most generous possible interpretation of the OIG findings, NASA headquarters and CCP managers may have been shaken and not think of a state of equilibrium after SpaceX’s second major failure in just over a year.
The OIG audit further implied that the timing of a Boeing proposal – submitted just days after NASA agreed to pay the company extra to prevent that access gap – was suspect.
“Five days after NASA promised to pay $ 287.2 million in price increases for four commercial crew missions, Boeing submitted an official proposal to sell NASA up to five Soyuz seats for $ 373.5 million for missions during the same time frame. In total, Boeing received $ 660.7 million above the fixed prices set out in the CCtCap price tables to pay an accelerated production schedule for four crew missions and five Soyuz seats. “
In other words, NASA officials somehow did not realize or remember that Boeing owned multiple Soyuz seats during “prolonged negotiations” (p. 24) with Boeing and subsequently awarded Boeing an additional $ 287M to accelerate production and Starliner’s preparations, thus avoiding an access gap. The following week, Boeing asked NASA if it wanted to buy five Soyuz seats that it had already acquired to send NASA astronauts to the ISS.
Speaking bluntly, this series of events has exactly three explanations, none of them touching.
- Boeing intentionally withheld an obvious (partial) solution to a perceived gap in astronaut access to the IEE, exploiting NASA’s panic to extract a ~ 7% premium from its fixed-price Starliner development contract.
- Due to gross negligence and lack of due diligence in basic contracting, NASA ignored the possible obvious (and cheaper) solutions available, taking Boeing’s word for granted and opening the piggy bank.
- An absurd study of “crew access analysis” ignored multiple obvious and preferable solutions to give “numerous NASA officials” an excuse to violate the principles of fixed price hiring and pay Boeing a substantial premium.
EXTORTION WITH A FRIENDLY SMILE
The latter explanation, although the worst and most dangerous in corruption, is probably the most likely option based on the history of NASA’s relationship with Boeing. In fact, the July 2019 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. UU. GAO revealed that NASA has consistently paid Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars in “support fees” as part of the company’s SLS production contract (base phase), which has at least four calendar years and $ 1.8 million in budget. From 2014 to 2018, NASA awarded Boeing a total of $ 271 million in grant fees, a practice designed to provide outstanding performance to a designated contractor.
In many of those years, NASA reviews described Boeing’s performance as “good”, “very good”, and “excellent”, while Boeing has repeatedly flooded the production of the basic stage of the SLS, adding years of delay in launching the SLS rocket . This means that “many NASA officials” were more than happy to give Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars in awards despite the fact that the company was and remains one of the main reasons for not delivering the SLS program.
In the end, despite NASA’s concern about the successive failures of SpaceX Falcon 9 and some combination of uncertainty, ignorance and corruption, all played an important role, and the fact is that NASA, according to Inspector General, has never been addressed to SpaceX as part of its 2016/17 efforts Avoid “crew arrival gap”. Because CCP has two partners, this decision was largely inappropriate regardless of the circumstances and became incomprehensible due to the fact that NASA knew very well that SpaceX Crew Dragon had much shorter delivery times and cost much. Less than the Starliner.
This meant that if NASA had approached SpaceX to try to mitigate the access gap, SpaceX could have been much cheaper and faster, or at least injected some good faith competition into the effort.
Finally and perhaps most disturbing, many NASA officials told NASA OIG researchers that, despite the many preferred alternatives, they finally decided to sign the price increases that Boeing requested because they were worried that Boeing would leave the entire commercial crew program without it. As expected, Boeing and NASA denied this in their official responses to the OIG audit, but the US government inspector would generally not publish such an allegation without much confidence and much evidence to support it.
According to OIG sources, “senior CCP officials believe that due to financial considerations, Boeing cannot continue as a commercial supplier to the crew unless the contractor receives the highest prices.” Much remains to be said, because these officials believed that Boeing’s complete withdrawal from the CPC was a great danger and how they came to this conclusion, enough to make it impossible to conclude that Boeing really threatened to resign instead of NASA payments.
All things considered, these fairly damning revelations should by no means take away from the excellent work Boeing engineers and technicians are trying to do to design, build, and launch Starliner. However, they do serve to draw a fine line between the mindsets and motivations of Boeing and SpaceX. One puts profit, shareholders, and itself above all else, while the other is trying hard to lower the cost of spaceflight and enable a sustainable human presence on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.