NASA’s Inspector General (IG) predicts that the US will have to spend $90 million per seat for flights on the CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft currently being constructed by Boeing to transport people to the International Space Station (ISS).
In a report released last week, the IG also stated that the estimated average cost per seat for flights on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is contracted under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program to also deliver people to the ISS, is approximately $55 million. The findings revealed that both Boeing and SpaceX “face significant safety and technical challenges with parachutes, propulsion, and launch abort systems that need to be resolved prior to receiving NASA authorization to transport crew to the ISS.”
“The complexity of these issues has already caused at least a 2-year delay in both contractors’ development, testing, and qualification schedules and may further delay certification of the launch vehicles by an additional year,” the report continued.
In a November 14 tweet, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said that it doesn’t “seem right” that Boeing is being paid more per seat for its Starliner than the SpaceX is receiving for the Dragon capsule, adding: “meaning [it’s] not fair that Boeing gets so much more for the same thing.”
Boeing released a statement Monday refuting several claims made in the NASA IG report.
“We strongly disagree with the report’s conclusions about CST-100 Starliner pricing and readiness, and we owe it to the space community and the American public to share the facts the Inspector General [IG] missed,” Jim Chilton, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space and Launch, is quoted as saying in the statement.
“Each member of the Boeing team has a personal stake in the safety, quality and integrity of what we offer our customers, and since Day One, the Starliner team has approached this program with a commitment to design, develop and launch a vehicle that we and NASA can be proud of.”
In regards to to the per-seat cost estimate, Boeing said that its craft “will fly the equivalent of a fifth passenger in cargo for NASA, so the per-seat pricing should be considered based on five seats rather than four.”
“For proprietary, competitive reasons Boeing does not disclose specific pricing information, but we are confident our average seat pricing to NASA is below the figure cited,” the statement added.
However, the IG report tells a different story, claiming that NASA agreed to pay Boeing $287.2 million above its fixed prices “to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019 for the company’s third through sixth crewed missions and to ensure the company continued as a second commercial crew provider.”
“For these four missions, NASA essentially paid Boeing higher prices to address a schedule slippage caused by Boeing’s 13-month delay in completing the ISS Design Certification Review milestone,” the report continued.
The crew demonstration flights on the Starliner and Dragon are slated to take place some time in 2020.