If Boeing Needs Uncrewed Success for a Crewed Flight One Year After SpaceX

The Boeing Starliner crew capsule will fly a second time without astronauts after software problems and other issues caused the first test flight on 20 December 2019 to fail to reach the International Space Station. If the November, 2020 uncrewed Starliner flight is successful then there would be a first crewed flight around April 2021.

Boeing is building the core stage of the super heavy Space Launch System (SLS). SLS is years behind schedule. The first flight of SLS has slipped multiple times and now is targeting a launch date of November 2021.

SOURCES- Wikipedia

31 thoughts on “If Boeing Needs Uncrewed Success for a Crewed Flight One Year After SpaceX”

  1. If you mean that they’re not a company that’s led by engineers anymore, I’ll tentatively agree with that. But they’re certainly an engineering company.

    If I had to guess, about 85% of the problem is software. Boeing is stuck doing waterfall-style development because everybody from the DoD to the FAA to NASA wants them to keep doing it that way. But waterfall works more and more poorly as young engineers come into the company who weren’t trained in the methodology, and as the tool sets needed to execute waterfall are increasingly antiquated and user-hostile.

    One of the main reasons that SpaceX is cleaning Boeing’s clock, and probably a good chunk of why Airbus is as well, is that they’re simply newer companies, whose software processes were established at later dates. Some day, it’ll be their turn in the barrel as well.

    But for now, Boeing needs capital ‘R’ Reform. It’s going to be enormously painful and difficult, so difficult that I don’t give them more than about a 25% chance of succeeding. But they have a 0% chance if they don’t do something pretty quick.

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  2. SLS isn’t one of the two sources. Those are F9/D2 and Atlas V N22/Starliner. SLS at this point only has one use: getting a crew in an Orion to NRHO and back.

    The official line is that NASA has no intention of second-sourcing that mission. However, if the version of Starship that SpaceX is doing for the Artemis Human Landing System works out well, it’ll be blindingly obvious that that spacecraft can take a crew to and from NRHO for roughly a tenth the cost of of SLS/Orion.

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  3. I don’t think Blue would be much interested in this. Both Starliner and D2 aren’t much good for anything other than LEO and launching an LEO capsule on a New Glenn is a bit like swatting a fly with a nuclear weapon. Blue is intensely focused on cis-lunar. If they’re going after crew-rating, it’ll be on something that can get at least to NRHO.

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  4. I get having two sources of crewed access in case one fails, but by now it should be obvious to everyone that SLS is a dinosaur. If Congress insists on keeping it around, wouldn’t it make sense to at least consider a reusable version? Or is development so far down the road that it’s impossible?

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  5. Human spaceflight is relatively insensitive to launch costs right now, and likely will be for several more years.

    I think ULA will ultimately be able to reduce Vulcan costs with the reusable thrust structure. They haven’t been concentrating on this because they’re under huge schedule pressure to get Vulcan flying. The sooner they do that, the sooner they can get rid of Delta IV Heavy, which they’d love to retire and sink the resources back into Vulcan. But they can’t do that until Vulcan Heavy is actually flying. So that means that they have to pour everything they can into the Vulcan core and the Centaur 5 first, and the stretched Centaur 5 right after that. Only once they have that done can they work on the semi-reusable Vulcan core and ACES.

    Note that the government is already throwing money at Blue, because the Vulcan core engines are BE-4’s. NASA is also throwing money at Blue for the Artemis Human Landing System, which lets them develop the BE-7.

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  6. Boeing has been way too focused on playing the game of– crony capitalism– rather than focusing on being innovative. And that has caused them to undermine their own space development technologies. 

    Once the Starliner is operational, they should immediately focus on trying to expand the utilization of the Starliner by trying to get Bezos to use the crew capsule for its New Glenn rocket system which is also scheduled to go into operations in 2021. Blue Origin already has a relationship with the ULA (a Boeing/Lockheed Martin company), providing the methane engines for the future Vulcan rocket. 

    Boeing should also focus on trying to encourage ESA (European Space Agency) to use the Starliner for their already human-rated Ariane V. And they should probably encourage JAXA (Japanese Space Agency) to use the Starliner for their HII-A rocket system.

    The SLS will never be an efficient crew launch vehicle in its current heavy lift configuration. SLS operations should focus on being an unmanned super heavy cargo space launcher rather than a crew launcher. It would have complete dominance over other launch systems– including the future Space X Starship which will only be capable of deploying structures 8 meters in diameter and about ten meters long. The SLS should be capable of deploying large heavy payloads, pressurized habitats, and extraterrestrial space ships that are 8.4 meters to 12 meters in diameter and up to 40 meters long without a payload fairing.

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  7. well there’s more to space than launches. There appears to be a move to have a fleet of ‘orbit only’ shuttles to do cargo, tourists, transport from LEO to Lunar orbit, asteroid transport/ access, and other no re-entry/ no lift-off shuttling. Perhaps even a more ‘terminal like’ orbital base than ISS. The worst thing in the world would be to disperse the talent or facilities of Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, etc…. Don’t make ‘winning the launch race’ be the enemy of establishing large and dominant above-LEO presence. Or did someone say ‘joint venture’???

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  8. Yes I think that Boeing was always planning on being the backup for SpaceX. Backup quarterbacks make good money and don’t have to risk injuries.

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  9. There’s a good chance a Starship demo will reach orbit before SLS does.

    After the first hops, the next phase are multi-mile high jumps, and then a possible suborbital (or orbital) test of Starship in SSTO mode. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

    SS Superheavy still needs to be built and tested, though. The building process will be faster than Starship’s, given the already acquired experience with Raptor and Methalox tanks & plumbing, but I don’t believe a complete Starship/SH will launch before 2022.

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  10. As long as SpaceX is the only one flying reusable rockets, it will still be a monopoly to anyone who cares about launch cost. If the government wants to fix that they should throw money at Blue Origin, not ULA.

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  11. There’s a lot of folks who think it started when they decided to move the executives to Chicago, and away from contact with the shop floor.

    They may well be right. Moving them back would be the smart thing to do, IMO.

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  12. The SLS will never be competitive with Space-X or Blue Origin. I was streaming some show where they went to Mars. They showed them using an SLS. Fail. Never going to happen.

    It’s an overly-complex space shuttle without the shuttle.

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  13. The longer a bureaucracy exists, private or gov, the longer power addicts, “empire builders” my dad called them, have to entrench themselves. The private ones have some fear of competition, but that is usu not enuf. People are as crazy as they can possibly be. And the power addicts are the worst addicts of all. So much energy needed to repress themselves!

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  14. The idea wasn’t only to have competition. Much more important to NASA was the idea of having two sources so that one being grounded with a problem didn’t cripple crewed access to space. Boeing has done a lousy job, but that doesn’t make NASA’s two-source requirement wrong. Maybe if Sierra Nevada gets Dream Chaser to the point where it’s crew-certifiable, then we can drive a stake through Boeing’s heart. But I think it’s pretty important to have crewed access to LEO, since it’s pretty much the basis of all human spaceflight.

    On top of that, it’s a terrible idea to have the government creating a private monopoly. Like it or not, SpaceX almost certainly wouldn’t be here if COTS and CCP funding hadn’t given them the breathing room to get F9 and Dragon up and running. That’s a good thing, but the fact remains that if the US government creates a single 500 lb gorilla in a specific, other companies will be applying pressure to become the next one in some other one. That’s something that doesn’t even happen in the defense industry. It’s a bad precedent.

    If the cost of avoiding that is that Boeing needs propping up while it figures out how to cure its bad case of recto-cranial inversion, so be it. And if you really want to punish Boeing, a much better way is to add a second source for super-heavy lift. I have one in mind…

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  15. +1
    Very well stated.
    Boeing has (unintentionally) decided on a slow death, by not pushing the boundaries anymore, and just making the “same ol’ same ol’.

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  16. Or it may never be ready.

    At a certain point, Boeing may have to go “You know, we just can’t compete with SpaceX. The cost is too much, they’re too far ahead and… we honestly may not have the proper expertise any more. We’re not attracting the proper talent any more. We’re no longer the hot aerospace company – we make the equivalent of sky going buses and the romance has faded from that industry. We haven’t done a good job on a number of projects – our attempt for the Air Force to make a new tanker’s been plagued with design mistakes and build errors. You saw it with the rookie mistake we made with the un-synchronized system clocks. And there’s what went on with the 737Max – the costs from that… we may just write off the Starliner project as something we’re not ready for, like Lockheed did with the X-33 VentureStar.”

    They’ll pretty it up in the press release IF they cancel it – and I think at this point it could go either way – but Boeing’s got a long way to go to match SpaceX. And SpaceX isn’t going to sit around waiting for Boeing to catch up.

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  17. Congressional Distracting.

    The worst conspiracy in human history. It’s the reason why we have SLS rockets and don’t have cheap Thorium Molten Salt Reactors.

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  18. Normally I would agree. But if NASA could save billions through a contract with a proven provider with the best tech at the lowest price, well, sometimes it’s best to accept a win.

    SpaceX’s craft looks like a Tesla on auto-pilot. Starliner’s interior resembles the shuttle from 30 years ago. It’s not easy to live in Musk’s world but Boeing must accept reality.

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  19. If Boeing Needs Uncrewed Success for a Crewed Flight One Year After SpaceX

    I don’t get what that title is trying to say.
    Should the “If” be there?

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  20. I have a feeling the US would have been more than happy with a single provider, as long as it was ULA. Those boys know how to grease the correct palms.

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  21. The USA government doesn’t like to depend on a single provider.

    Therefore NASA will prop up Boeing’s capsule even if it takes it 1 or 2 years more to be ready.

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  22. A year difference is not that long in the space business as it still is very small. Every new step forward takes a very long to accomplish and since there are still no commercial uses and there are non foreseen for non reusable manned low orbit and splash down launches, only government contracts, there is still a very little issue with that in the bigger picture of things.

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  23. It was a valiant effort but there is little value having a second best mouse trap. NASA should purchase 50 flights from SpaceX and wish Boeing the best.
    It was a great idea to have competition. But part of competition is accepting the results.

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