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Boeing satellite internet cleared for takeoff

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Boeing to put 147 satellites in orbit for a broadband internet constellation, adding to a list of competitors including Amazon, OneWeb and SpaceX.

Boeing’s constellation was proposed in 2017, but it took four years for the FCC to iron out the technicalities surrounding the plan. Most of the satellites will circle the globe at a height of about 650 miles. Fifteen of them will go into highly inclined orbits at an altitude between 17,000 and 27,500 miles.

To comply with requirements laid out in the FCC’s order, half of the satellites must be launched by 2027, with the rest in place by 2030.

Boeing’s aim is to provide high-speed satellite data services to consumers on a global basis — echoing the goals set for SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb’s constellation and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, among others. SpaceX is currently leading the pack by providing limited service via more than 1,600 satellites. OneWeb is due to begin limited service this winter, and this week, Amazon asked the FCC to authorize the launch of its first two prototype satellites next year.

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Blue Origin leads team for ‘Orbital Reef’ space outpost

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is joining forces with Colorado-based Sierra Space and a host of other partners, including Boeing, to propose building a space-based “mixed-use business park” called Orbital Reef.

The plan, announced today at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, is among about a dozen proposals being submitted to NASA for a share of development funds under a program aimed at preparing the way for replacing the International Space Station.

If Blue Origin and its partners follow through on the plan, the basic version of Orbital Reef would be in low Earth orbit sometime during the latter half of the 2020s — in time for an orderly transition from ISS operations. That version would include power-generating capability, a core module with picture windows looking down on Earth, a habitat provided by Sierra Space and a Boeing-built science lab.

Blue Origin’s senior vice president of advanced development programs, Brent Sherwood, told me that Orbital Reef would cost “at least an order of magnitude less” than the International Space Station. The development cost for the International Space Station is typically estimated at $100 billion, which would imply a cost in the range of $10 billion for Orbital Reef.

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Starliner’s next flight to orbit will slip into 2022

Boeing says its next attempt to send an uncrewed Starliner space taxi to the International Space Station will take place no earlier than the first half of 2022, due to the time needed to fix a valve problem that led to the last-minute cancellation of an August test flight.

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U.S. and Europe call a truce in Boeing-Airbus battle

The United States and the European Union have agreed on a five-year suspension in tit-for-tat tariffs over a 17-year-long trade dispute that involved subsidies given to Boeing and Airbus for airplane development. The deal, announced today during President Joe Biden’s meetings with EU leaders in Brussels, heads off billions of dollars in duties that could have affected a wide range of products — although U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the tariffs could be reactivated if “U.S. producers are not able to compete fairly.”

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Cloud titans reportedly battle for Boeing’s business

Amazon, Microsoft and Google are involved in a bidding process to provide Boeing with cloud computing services, a contract that’s expected to be worth at least $1 billion over several years, The Information reports.

Today’s report is attributed to four people with knowledge of the matter. We’ve reached out to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud as well as Boeing, but this is typically something such companies doesn’t talk about publicly during negotiations — as The Information found out. (For what it’s worth, Google Cloud sent us a “no comment” email.)

The Information says AWS considers the Boeing contract “a must-win deal.” Andy Jassy, who’s currently in charge of AWS’ cloud business and is due to take over as Amazon’s CEO on July 5, is reportedly directly involved in the process.

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Boeing ex-CEO’s new tech venture raises $240M

New Vista Acquisition Corp., the blank-check company founded by former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg to prime the pump for a future high-tech acquisition, went on the market today with an initial public offering valued at $240 million. That’s significantly higher than the originally planned $200 million offering.

The IPO comes a little more than a year after Boeing fired Muilenburg amid controversy over his handling of the company’s 737 MAX crisis. Boeing is still dealing with the financial and reputational aftermath of two catastrophic crashes in late 2018 and early 2019, the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX fleet that resulted, and deep questions that were raised during investigations into Boeing’s practices.

Boeing is now well into the 737 MAX fleet’s return to service under Dave Calhoun, Muilenburg’s successor as Boeing CEO.

During his time at Boeing, Muilenburg was a strong advocate for technologies focusing on advanced air mobility and autonomous flight — the sorts of technologies that could spawn new types of electric-powered, vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs. Such craft are also known as air taxis, personal air vehicles or flying cars. Many of Boeing’s efforts in that market have been put on hold due to the financial impacts of the 737 MAX crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

New Vista, which has Muilenburg as chairman and CEO, says it will focus on businesses operating in the space, defense and communications industries, as well as advanced air mobility and logistics. The company is widely expected to target an eVTOL venture for a merger or acquisition.

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$25 million to be paid in drone whistleblower case

Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that it used recycled parts rather than new parts in military drones, the Justice Department announced today.

The parts were put into drones that Insitu built for the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Department of the Navy between 2009 and 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.

When Insitu was awarded the contracts to supply the drones, under the terms of no-bid contracts, the company said it would use new parts and materials. But according to the allegations, Insitu substituted less expensive recycled, refurbished, reconditions and reconfigured parts.

“Taxpayers deserve to get what they paid for — especially in significant no-bid military contracts,” U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said in a news release. “Cases such as this one should be seen as a warning to defense contractors that false claims have no place in military purchasing.”

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Boeing will pay $2.5B to resolve 737 MAX criminal case

Boeing says it’s entered into a $2.51 billion agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve a criminal charge related to the Federal Aviation Administration’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplanes.

The deferred-prosecution agreement addresses a single charge of conspiracy to defraud FAA inspectors about the safety of the 737 MAX’s automated flight control system. Investigators say changes to a component known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, were to blame in a pair of catastrophically fatal 737 MAX crashes that occurred in Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia in March 2019.

Those crashes led the FAA and other regulators to ground hundreds of 737 MAX planes operated by airlines around the world. After more than a year of investigations, software fixes and revisions to pilot training requirements, the FAA cleared the planes to return to service last November.

The agreement calls for Boeing to pay a penalty of $243.6 million, provide $1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines that purchased 737 MAX jets, and establish a $500 million fund to compensate the families of the 346 people who were killed in the two crashes. Boeing also agreed to cooperate with investigators and strengthen its anti-fraud compliance program.

If Boeing complies with the requirements of the agreement, filed today with a federal court in Texas, the criminal charge will be dismissed after three years.

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Boeing ends an era at composites research center

Boeing says it’ll be repurposing the Seattle-area facility that has served as the focus for research into the composite materials used in aircraft ranging from the B-2 Stealth bomber to the 787 Dreamliner.

In an emailed statement, Boeing said much of the work being done at the Advanced Developmental Composites Center, situated across the street from Seattle’s Museum of Flight, will be distributed to other Boeing facilities — mostly in the Puget Sound region. Other work, unrelated to Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will continue to be done at the 600,000-square-foot facility.

Boeing cast the move as a cost-saving and efficiency-enhancing measure.

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The year in aerospace: Comebacks in the skies above

Boeing’s rebuilding year drew to a close today with a milestone capping a momentous year in aerospace: the first U.S. passenger flight for a 737 MAX jet since the worldwide fleet was grounded.

American Airlines Flight 718 carried 87 passengers from Miami to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, more than 21 months after two catastrophic crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia brought a halt to 737 MAX flights.

The incidents led to months of investigation, focusing on an automated flight control system that was found to be vulnerable to software glitches. Boeing had to revamp the system and rework pilot training routines in cooperation with airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration gave the go-ahead for the return to commercial operations just last month.

Brazil’s Gol Airlines and Aeromexico resumed flying 737 MAX jets earlier this month, but Flight 718 was the first time since the grounding that a MAX carried paying passengers on a regularly scheduled U.S. flight.