The Rivalry Between Boeing And SpaceX Could Spell Disaster For NASA As Both Companies Eye Government Contracts And Competition Heats Up

Monday, 23 July 2018 - 1:48PM
Space
SpaceX
Monday, 23 July 2018 - 1:48PM
The Rivalry Between Boeing And SpaceX Could Spell Disaster For NASA As Both Companies Eye Government Contracts And Competition Heats Up
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NASA
Boeing's spacecraft that will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a blow during recent testing of its emergency abort system. A propellant leak will in all likelihood delay the scheduled launch, although it remains to be seen if additional issues will come to light after further testing.

This is only the most recent in a series of failures and delays for commercial space contracts. Boeing and SpaceX have multibillion dollar contracts with NASA but, in their schoolyard competition to outdo each other, both companies may be doing more harm than good to the very agency they seek to court.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a Government Accountability report called the companies' schedules "aggressive" and "ambitious – rather than realistic." There are many ways this could go terribly wrong and the potential consequences range from expensive and inconvenient to downright catastrophic

One possibility is that, by failing to provide accurate timelines based on a schedule of thorough testing, both SpaceX and Boeing will compromise NASA's ability to access the space station at all. Since retiring the Space Shuttle in 2011 NASA has relied on Russia for transportation to the ISS. They have flights scheduled through 2020, and that is predicated on the expectation that an American commercial spacecraft will be fully operational by that time. With so many false starts and delays, such a guarantee is seeming less and less likely.

Another possible scenario is that equipment will perform well enough during preliminary trials, but an accelerated schedule might leave little room for additional tests that would otherwise reveal critical weaknesses. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of equipment malfunction during future missions. When the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded in 2015, NASA lost $112 million in supplies. This mission was mercifully unmanned, but the potential cost in human life is impossible to quantify.

Boeing and SpaceX have a history of cooperation and competition, one company launching its satellite on the other's rocket while their CEOs trade barbs on social media. It's an uneasy alliance that could unravel in the face of this new rush to launch American astronauts from American soil: whoever does it first will likely secure an even larger contract and a footnote in the history books. NASA recently reiterated that "flying safely has always taken precedence over schedule" – a subtle warning and reminder of what is truly important in the space race.

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NASA
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