Boeing’s multibillion-greenback agreement to build U.S. astronaut capsules received an “unnecessary” extension from NASA, a watchdog report stated on Thursday, the newest management blunders in the company’s program to restart domestic human spaceflight.
NASA agreed to pay Boeing a $287 million premium for “additional flexibilities” to speed up manufacturing of the company’s Starliner crew vehicle and avoid an 18-month gap in flights to the International Space Station. NASA’s inspector general referred to as it an “unreasonable” boost to Boeing’s fixed-priced $4.2 billion greenback deal.
Instead, the inspector general stated the space company might have saved $144 million by making “simple adjustments” to Starliner’s planned launch schedule, including buying extra seats from Russia’s space company, which the U.S. has been reliant on since the 2011 retirement of its space shuttle mission.
Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have received almost $7 billion combined since 2014 from NASA to design separate capsule systems made to end U.S. reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut flights to the International Space Station. This system has been set back years by testing mishaps at both suppliers.
In response to the inspector general’s report, NASA “strongly” disagreed with the report’s findings that it over-rewarded Boeing, though it did agree the “advanced and extensive” talks with the aerospace firm might have led to a lower price.
The report comes as Boeing faces investigation over its management of NASA’s Space Launch System — a massive rocket whose development has been plagued with delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns. It has further witnessed harsh criticism from U.S. legislators over its best-selling 737 MAX plane, which was grounded after two lethal accidents in five months killed 346 people.