Starliner Delay Costs Boeing Another $257 Million

Starliner Delay Costs Boeing Another $257 Million

Boeing reported today that continued delays to the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew program have cost the company another $257 million. Boeing is building Starliner under a fixed price contract so must absorb cost increases that had already reached almost $900 million and there is no clarity on when it might actually make its first launch with a crew aboard.

In a second quarter 2023 financial earnings statement today, Boeing said the “Commercial Crew program recorded a $257 million loss primarily due to the impacts of the previously announced launch delay.”

That is on top of $883 million of charges against earnings because of previous problems dating back to December 2019 when Starliner’s first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) almost ended catastrophically. Boeing decided to refly the test. It took a year and a half to get ready, but at the last minute, hours before the planned liftoff of OFT-2 in August 2021, the launch was scrubbed when 13 propulsion valves wouldn’t open. The uncrewed test finally flew in May 2022, clearing the path for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) with two NASA astronauts aboard, Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams.

NASA and Boeing were working towards a CFT launch on July 21, but on June 1 announced an indefinite launch delay after two new problems were discovered:

  • Data about the strength of “soft link” fabric sections in the parachute lines that slow the spacecraft for landing was recorded incorrectly years ago. After redoing the tests, they found the lines do not meet the required safety factor.
  • Tape wrapped around wiring harnesses inside the spacecraft and used extensively throughout the spacecraft are flammable.

Boeing decided to stand down from the launch to do more parachute testing and replace the tape or cover it with a non-flammable type.

The decision came days after a strong recommendation from NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel that an independent review be conducted of the Starliner program. ASAP urged NASA to “step back and take a measured look at the remaining body of work” needed before putting astronauts in the spacecraft.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in 2014 to build new crew space transportation systems through Public-Private Partnerships where the government and the companies share development costs under a Firm Fixed Price contract. The government purchases services once the systems are certified as meeting NASA’s safety standards. The companies retain ownership and are expected to find non-NASA customers to close the business case. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has been flying astronauts to orbit since 2020 on both NASA and private astronaut missions. Starliner has only flown twice with no one onboard.

Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner OFT-2 lands at White Sands Space Harbor, NM, May 25, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

During the company’s second quarter 2023 earnings telecon today, Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun emphasized they remain committed to the program.

“On Starliner, we are in lockstep with our customer. We prioritize safety and we’re taking whatever time is required. We’re confident in that team and committed to getting it right.”  — Boeing’s David Calhoun

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich was asked about Starliner yesterday during a press conference about the next SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to ISS, Crew-7, scheduled for launch next month.

Stich said the NASA-Boeing team “has made a lot of progress” on the parachute system and is busy removing the flammable tape “and we think we have another nonflammable tape that we can apply.”  They are not ready to set a launch date, however.

“We need to step back a little bit and take a look at how all this work lines up. We’re not really ready to talk about a launch opportunity yet. We’re going to work the technical issues first and then we’ll sit down with the Boeing team when the times is right and pick a launch target.”  NASA’s Steve Stich

NASA is eager to get Starliner flying so it has a second system to take astronauts to and from the ISS in case anything goes awry with Crew Dragon, what it calls “dissimilar redundancy.” NASA had to rely on Russia to ferry crews back and forth to ISS for nine years between termination of the space shuttle in 2011 and Crew Dragon’s first crewed flight in 2020.  It does not want to be in that situation again.

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