wongarsu 5 days ago
It's almost comical at this point. The Commercial Crew Program was started as a replacement for the space shuttle, to have an option to get Astronauts to the ISS without relying on Russia. The initial goal was to begin service in 2017, and for that two providers were chosen: the reliable and experienced aerospace company Boeing, and the new upstart SpaceX. Back in 2011 the SpaceX choice seemed risky.

As expected both had some delays, but SpaceX had their first crewed test flight in March of 2020, with regular flights starting in November of the same year. Meanwhile Boeing's Starliner continues to be always just six months away.

hef19898 5 days ago
Nobody has a monopoly of promising something in 6 months.

Boeing really isn't what it was once. A pitty, really.

entropicgravity 5 days ago
Let this be a lesson to those on the boards of tech companies. It's not necessarily horrible to chose a new CEO that has an MBA degree but also be sure that he has an engineering degree. An MBA only CEO in tech is almost always a poor out come, as in the case of Boeing.
plorg 1 day ago
I want this to be true, but is it actually relevant here? The previous Boeing CEO had his bachelor's and graduate degrees in engineering and made decisions that were bad for both business and engineering reasons.
hef19898 5 days ago
Counter example of engineering CEOs: VW, continiously uphold as a shining example of tech prowness, especially HN.
toomuchtodo 5 days ago
When I think of building an engineering first company, Bosch comes to mind. Great products, great engineering, solid governance that prevents someone from ruining the org by strip mining it for short term gain.
hef19898 5 days ago
Bosch is a good example, for sure. Except their involvement in the Diesel scandal. Otherwise, I agree, you basically never hear anything bad. And from my experience working with, not for, their white and household goods branch, they are good. Never heard anything bad.

Edit: Just realized my comment mihht sound snarky regarding Bosch. It isn't, after all Bosch had less antitrust and compliance scandals and penalties than any of my employers except two: Amazon (which didn't really have any as far as I can tell from top of my head) and my own failed start up, which didn't ajve any neither. All others? Multiple antitrust actions, compliance scandals and multi millions, if not billions, in penalties.

bryanlarsen 5 days ago
Note that SpaceX was not paid to begin service in 2017. Commercial Crew funding was cut by Congress. We will never know if SpaceX could have begun flying in 2017 if they had received the full funding. It's unlikely they could have, but we'll never know. What is sure is that the delayed funding delayed Dragon's first crewed flight. SpaceX did not hit a good operational cadence flying Falcon9 until about 2017, so was a severely cash constrained operation.
cameldrv 5 days ago
At this point, what's the purpose of continuing with the Starliner program? Does it provide any capability that's not already proven with Dragon?
wongarsu 5 days ago
Having a second provider makes sense: competition keeps the prices down and innovation up, and you have some redundancy if one company or launch system has trouble (like when the Space Shuttle was grounded for 2.5 years after the Columbia disaster).

Whether that second provider should still be Boeing is less clear. But inertia and sunk cost make it easier to stick with them than to give the money to someone else.

tjpnz 5 days ago
Dream Chaser may be able to fill that gap. And unlike Dragon it would be capable of reboosting the ISS.
cameldrv 5 days ago
Obviously in hindsight it was a very good idea to award the contract to two teams to develop commercial crew, but Dragon/Falcon has a good service history now.

Also, the ISS is will probably be retired in 8 years or less, so NASA could simply buy Dragon flights to cover them through that time.

It's not clear what the purpose of either vehicle will be once the ISS is retired, especially considering that Starship will very likely be flying, which completely changes the economics and practical possibilities of spaceflight.

Even in the context of the partially reusable Falcon 9, Vulcan makes very questionable sense, but in the context of the fully reusable Starship, Vulcan seems incredibly wasteful to continue flying.

Beached 5 days ago
there is already a number of space station replacements in progress, including NASA funded axiom. the intent is that NASA will become a Tennant on a commercial station or two, and be a customer of commercial transport to and from those stations. dragon, starliner, and dream chaser all plan on serving the iss until retirement, as well as private stations well after it's retirement. NASA and ESA don't plan on stopping their LEO work when the iss is retired, they just plan on stopping the development and maintenance of LEO transport and stations.
larkost 5 days ago
The same reason as the Dragon was initially funded: options. The thinking is that only having one option is more risky than having two, and spending the extra money on the two programs is justified both by the enhancements that competition between teams brings, and by the lowering of risk to the program as a whole (if one does not work out, then we have a second one).

And to counter the idea "the race is won, we don't need a second one", I will argue that we don't want this to end up like the Apollo program where we get there and then don't go back for 60 years.

logdap 5 days ago
Two is better than one. If Dragon were grounded for some reason, an operational Starliner would give NASA a lot more flexibility.
wmf 5 days ago
NASA is already buying the minimum number of Starliner flights. I don't know if NASA can legally cancel the Starliner contract and everyone involved would lose even more face by canceling.
proggy 4 days ago
“First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?”

- S.R. Hadden, Contact

gcanyon 5 days ago
It's not inconceivable that Elon Musk could pack up his toys and move his business elsewhere. He has amply demonstrated his mercurial nature and his willingness to throw a pile of money/infrastructure/relationships onto a bonfire just to watch the fire dance.

I love the progress he's made, but it's unsafe to assume he's 100% aligned with U.S. interests.

jfengel 5 days ago
I don't have a full picture of the various crewed systems, so I'll share what I figured out:

Starliner is the capsule. It looks a lot like a bigger version of the Apollo command module.

The rocket part is an Atlas V, which is venerable and reliable. So venerable that they're about to retire it. But they can also put it on a Falcon 9 or something called Vulcan Centaur, which I've never heard of but which is supposed to launch soon. It's apparently a bit more powerful than the Falcon 9.

If I'm understanding this correctly, it means that they're less worried about "rocket go boom" as "rocket go up with living people but comes down with dead people".

wongarsu 5 days ago
The Vulcan Centaur is built by ULE, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. It would thus be the logical choice for launching Starliner. The problem is that Vulcan Centaur uses BE-4 engines from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin. The BE-4 is arguably the most promising product Blue Origin has produced in the past 22 years, but it is three to four years behind schedule because of technical and managerial problems. The first two engines are now finally mounted to a rocket and are currently undergoing flight readiness testing, so I guess the next weeks or months will show how bright the future of the Vulcan looks like.
sebazzz 5 days ago
Latest status is that they had a Flight Tanking Test and needed to roll back, and just yesterday aborted a Flight Readyness Firing (or what SpaceX calls "static fire").

> Standing down for today. We test the BE4 ignition system during the count. Timing and response doesn’t look right. Need to understand it.

https://twitter.com/torybruno/status/1658084513963192320 https://twitter.com/torybruno/status/1661834466032238592

ericcumbee 5 days ago
and Vulcan is not human rated. and ULA has said they have no plans to Human Rate Vulcan.

I feel like that is kind of the writing on the wall that Starliner won't fly beyond what they have Atlas boosters earmarked for.

dmbche 5 days ago
Oh wow, they are expecting to throw people in the sky in July! That's crazy
logdap 5 days ago
Crazy it's taken them this long and they're still having problems. If it weren't for SpaceX, the whole western world would be out of manned spaceflight right now. The Russians and Chinese can fly humans, but NASA is Congressionally forbidden from dealing with China, and since 2022 dealing with Russia is off the table too. That leaves SpaceX, and this notoriously dysfunctional Starliner program.

Get your act together, Boeing.

wongarsu 5 days ago
Paying for two competing providers really payed off for NASA. If they had only gone with the safe choice (which in 2011 definitely seemed to be Boeing) the West would be forced to soften their stance to either China or Russia, or be locked out of the ISS.
n8cpdx 5 days ago
Well, they’re expecting to send people to the heavens, one way or another. Boeing has a great track record here, even recently in the aviation business.
firstlink 5 days ago
Okay, but what do the politicos say? Their opinion is the one which will drive decisions.