NASA has ordered a second space taxi from the Boeing Co. to carry astronauts to the International Space Station a couple of years from now.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule and an upgraded version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft won’t go into service until 2017 at the earliest, but NASA has to put in its orders well in advance to get the ball rolling. NASA has been providing billions of dollars to support the commercial spaceship development effort.
“Once certified by NASA, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon each will be capable of two crew launches to the station per year,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said today in a news release. “Placing orders for those missions now really sets us up for a sustainable future aboard the International Space Station.”
Nearly six months after the Export-Import Bank was shut down due to congressional wrangling, the federal agency has been revived – which is good news for the Boeing Co.
The bank plays a key role in making loans and guaranteeing loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods. Since 2007, it’s provided support for $135 billion in exports from Washington state, according to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., one of the backers of the bank’s reauthorization.
Many of those exports were in the form of Boeing airplane sales, to such an extent that some have called the agency “the Bank of Boeing.” Supporters say the agency plays a crucial role in keeping Boeing and other exporters competitive in global markets, while critics say it provides foreigners with market-distorting subsidies funded by American taxpayers.
This year, GOP conservatives blocked reauthorization of the bank, and its authority to make new loans lapsed on June 30. In August, Boeing Chairman Jim McNerney hinted that the company might move key parts of its operation to other countries if the bank didn’t regain its lending authority.
To revive the bank, supporters resorted to a little-used maneuver known as a discharge petition, which allowed reauthorization to be voted on by the full House even though it was against the wishes of the House Financial Services Committee’s leadership. The measure was attached to a $305 billion highway and transit construction bill that won House and Senate approval on Thursday.
President Barack Obama signed the measure into law on Friday.
“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said today in a news release. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”
Even though the first order went to Boeing, it has not yet been determined whether Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will go first. The contracts required NASA to put in its orders early, but the scheduling decisions and required certifications will be made at a later time.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin say they’ve filed a formal protest of last month’s Pentagon decision to award a bomber contract worth as much as $80 billion to a competitor, Northrop Grumman.
The stealthy Long Range Strike Bomber is scheduled for deployment in the 2020s as a replacement for the Air Force’s decades-old B-1 and B-52 bombers. The Boeing-Lockheed team and Northrop Grumman both put in proposals, and both teams saw the contract as crucial for their long-term military business.
The Air Force made its selection using a mostly classified process, and announced the award to Northrop Grumman on Oct. 27. In today’s statement, Boeing and Lockheed Martin said the process was “fundamentally flawed.”
“The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors’ ability to perform, as required by the solicitation,” the companies said.
Boeing says it’s out of the running for NASA’s next contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, but it’ll still be sending up cargo as well as astronauts on its CST-100 Starliner spaceship under the terms of different deal.
The update came as NASA said that its selection of contractors for the second round of commercial resupply services for the space station, previously scheduled to be announced today, would have to wait.
“CRS2 is a complex procurement,” NASA said in an emailed statement. “The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016, to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection. Since the agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout. For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”
The CRS2 contracts are likely to be worth billions of dollars, and would cover a period running from 2018 to 2024.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of that first moving-in day for spacefliers living on the International Space Station – and like many places that have been lived in for 15 years, the ISS is in the midst of renovations.
This isn’t your typical “reno,” however: There’s no other place where the doors have to be replaced while the construction site is moving at 18,000 mph, 225 miles above Earth’s surface. That’s basically what’s involved in getting the station ready for the arrival of Boeing and SpaceX crew transport ships in the 2017 time frame.
“To implement it on orbit is extremely complex, and must be orchestrated very carefully,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s chief engineer for the space station project, says in a video marking the anniversary. Boeing is the prime contractor for the station’s U.S. segment.