Always good for the end user, bad for SpaceX.
Two and a half years after its first disastrous launch, Boeing has once again fired its CST-100 Starliner capsule at the International Space Station. This time it appeared to go well, launching at 18:54 ET from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The RD-180 main engine and twin solid rocket boosters of the Atlas V …
Not bad for spacex at all...
It's prudent to have multiple independent vehicles capable of these trips. The fact that we can no longer rely on cooperation from roscosmos highlights this. In this case the "safe bet" didn't work, but the "somewhat out there" upstart did.
That's an encouragement to competition (and one reason I really want to see some working BE4 engines, so that starliner doesn't end up hitching a lift on F9).
While there is no denying the pork, there's also now enough precedent that there would be massive backlash against choosing the pork over SpaceX when it comes to basic crew or cargo services. The "average joe public" is now much more aware of the cost of different launch providers and suddenly "space is just expensive" is no longer acceptable when giving a billion per launch to ULA for example.
Would be as dumb as depending on Boeing alone.
Ideally we will have at least three capable launch companies, then NASA can competitively bid contracts and get far better pricing and have alternatives if the winner is unable to deliver.
If NASA went all in on SpaceX like some people want to see, it will be impossible for the others to catch up and we'll be not much better off than we are today with Starliner.
OK, so perhaps with the ongoing issues with Starliner, not exactly the same, but similar enough not to consider the folly of single sourcing everything.
Back in the day there were more than two viable contractors for this stuff. They all bought each other. Guess we need to start a captive breeding program for a viable third.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have Commercial Crew Program contracts to develop and operate new spacecraft to deliver astronauts to and from the ISS. This event does not affect SpaceX's contract.
It's also worth noting that Boeing has spent almost twice as much to get to this point as SpaceX was awarded for the entire Crew Dragon development and operation program. Boeing is now losing money on the program. If anything this paints SpaceX in a very favourable light.
I fail to see how competition from a spacecraft that is more expensive, less reliable, includes a large disposible section and is markedly lower tech (check out that 70s airliner cockpit on Starliner) will be bad for SpaceX.
Edit: Forgot to mention, SpeceX turn a profit on Dragon launches, Boeing have taken a half billion loss on Starliner so far and will never see a profit from the programme.
The first was an erroneous clock setting, that caused too much fuel to be used to complete the mission, and the capsule was safely returned.
The second was valve failures, and the capsule never left the ground
This flight has had further valve failures, and that's a little worrying, but I don't think there is any evidence yet that the capsule won't make it back home.
The failures have been public, and embarrassing, but they don't (yet) qualify as severe failures I don't think
"The first was an erroneous clock setting, that caused too much fuel to be used to complete the mission, and the capsule was safely returned."
Have you forgotten about the other two critical bugs only discovered during the flight, either of which would have caused catastrophic failure? The screw-up with the clock was the only thing that saved the mission, since NASA has stated that they would not have been found if everything else had gone to plan.
"The second was valve failures, and the capsule never left the ground This flight has had further valve failures, and that's a little worrying"
By "worrying", you probably mean "expected". Because they haven't actually fixed the problem with the valves, they've just vaguely duck taped over it (very nearly literally) and said they'll get around to a proper fix later. Not only has the temporary fix clearly not worked very well, but personally I'd be very wary of getting in a Boeing-built craft that was flown in a different configuration from that which was actually tested. They're only one step away from calling it the Starliner MAX.
"Have you forgotten about the other two critical bugs only discovered during the flight, either of which would have caused catastrophic failure? "
Yes, yes I had...
I still find the multiple in flight failures to be worrying, since the paper covers should have protected those thrusters adequately.
There should be no starliner MAX, I'll agree with that.
I'm curious as to how many other manned flights (in the recent past) had thruster failures?
I'm guessing none or they would have been reported more widely.
Given this is meant to be a demo flight for how everything is wonderful after the last time, I don't see having a single thruster failure can be marked as a successful launch.
Yes they can manage without those two thrusters but what about next time? 3? 4 failed thrusters?
They must do better for a manned launch vehicle.
There have been quite a few, actually. Including one that almost killed Neil Armstrong (the first man to set foot on the Moon) during a Gemini flight where the thrusters kept spinning the capsule faster and faster.
Most people would've panicked and died, but Armstrong kept his calm and forced a reentry back to Earth.
the early astronauts were all test pilots. Modern astronauts should be more like commercial pilots, and be able to fly highly reliable craft on scheduled runs without incident.
Of course they'll still be still "test pilots" on the first few flights of any new system, but it seems to me that the Boeing design may need a bit more improvement in reliability before putting people on it.
I don't see having a single thruster failure can be marked as a successful launch.
Sure it can. Heck, Falcon 9 can lose an engine on ascent (much worse than a low-thrust maneuvering thruster) and still make the intended orbit.
That's known as engineering for off-nominal situations.
As long as the vehicle still makes the required maneuver and still has a bit of redundancy, you're fine.
The big problem is this trunk gets discarded on landing, so they won't have the failed units to look at.
The BBC website says:
"Boeing had attempted to fly Thursday's mission in August last year but was forced to abandon that exercise when valves in the capsule's propulsion system wouldn't open and close properly on the launch pad.
This issue still requires a permanent fix but engineers were happy to let the latest launch go ahead with temporary corrective measures in place."
So, hopefully, this flight will give them enough feedback to make more permanent and lasting "fixes" before any human guinea pigs are allowed to hitch a ride.
See here for some examples from last year:
When it's attached to the ISS it doesn't matter whether the module is manned or not - the whole ISS is manned.
The next milestone will be tonight (EDT) when they attempt to dock with the ISS. Even though its history is less than stellar, I still wish the boffins well.
As far as the malfunctioning thrusters, the multiple redundancies should still allow docking and deorbit. Still I wouldn't mind a few more cargo missions before they put spam in the can.
Considering the multiple scrubs caused by the thruster system rusting out on the ground, having two fail at launch isn't a great look. (Those were the maneuvering thrusters valves that were rusting shut on the ground right?)
Having 2 fail one time in flight would be black swan territory. Multiple failures at launch hot on the heels of a history of failures on the ground starts to look more like a critically flawed system component. Considering the context, one that will probably need to be ripped out have most of the crafts flight rating an testing redone as well.
But Boring is getting paid either way, $$$ becomes $$$$ for every failure. But no one can publicly admit this whole project was just an excuse to prop up the old guard in the aerospace wing of the defense contractors. Because the DoD still wants the stuff they make that SpaceX and Blueorigin won't touch.
There is a case for that from a purely Machiavellian standpoint, but we'd probably be better off admitting we are bending the rules and just giving them some block grants instead of enabling them by putting a fig leaf over obvious padding, graft, and corruption that leads to delays and flawed systems. Those are hard habits to break, and why we can't even get a cargo plane that is able to perform as well as the one that it is replacing, but also pay much more for.
But no one can publicly admit this whole project was just an excuse to prop up the old guard in the aerospace wing of the defense contractors
They don't have to. SpaceX's performance with Crew Dragon says it all, and has embarrassed the hell out of Boeing. Boeing has also lost a large chunk of change having to pay for the reflight.
Boeing is screwed because it bought McDonnell-Douglas and acquired the beancounters that were killing McD and are now killing Boeing.
> But no one can publicly admit this whole project was just an excuse to prop up the old guard in the aerospace wing of the defense contractors.
There must be two viable delivery systems. 2 different orbital launch systems, 2 different supply capsules, 2 different crew capsules, etc.
While Boeing has become a laughing stock for starliner, who else had any chance of being able to provide a second crew capsule in the timelines required? Sure, if a decade ago they had of chosen another bidder to be the 2nd supplier, that company may have succeeded. But I think NASA hedged their bets in that they chose one 'new space' company that had no track record of delivering a human-rated capsule - SpaceX - and one 'old-space' company that has a history of delivering human-rated capsules. The surprising thing is that it's Boeing who's flubbed it this badly, with SpaceX looking like the old-hand just producing yet another capsule, making Boeing look like the inexperienced upstart who makes lots of mistakes because it's its first such contract.
I don't think anyone doubted that Boeing would cost way more than SpaceX, but being an experienced - if somewhat expensive - hand, the expectation would have been that they were the 'safe' bet. Which has, of course, been shown to be have been wildly wrong. It's actually a sad indictment of new Boeing, of how far they have fallen in the last 20 years (since the McDonnell-Douglas reverse-takeover) as an engineering company, which at the time of the issuance of these contracts hadn't become as overtly visible as they are today.
> who else had any chance of being able to provide a second crew capsule in the timelines required?
Sierra Nevada and the Dream Chaser: https://www.sncorp.com/what-we-do/dream-chaser-space-vehicle/
Unfortunately SN came third in the selection process so their awesome looking, reusable spacecraft was not chosen. But, they have continued to develop it and I think they are planning a test flight later this year.
> But Boring is getting paid either way, $$$ becomes $$$$ for every failure
No they don't. ULA are charging them for the Atlas rocket used to launch the Starliner capsule.
This is not a cost plus contract, this is the Commercial Crew programme which has a fixed price. Boeing's price is the highest but they cannot increase it and in fact the opposite of your statement is true - Boeing have lost half a billion dollars on Starliner and will probably never make a profit on the programme.
> Because the DoD still wants the stuff they make that SpaceX and Blueorigin won't touch.
Jeff's BO has never been to space, they do nothing that the DoD would find useful. The USAF and Space Force use SpaceX to launch missions regularly including secret national security (spy sat) launches. There is no "stuff SpaceX won't touch." Falcon 9 is the most reliable rocket ever built, why would you put your $1 billion spy sat on anything else?
Boeing has to eat the cost of the retest, cos this is not a cost plus traditional mission. This is a fixed price mission(commercial crew program).
So regardless it takes them 1 year or a decade to fly a mission, they still get paid the same amount. And regardless they only did one flawless flight or needed to test in 10 different flights, it is still the same amount. So any time they delay or need to retest, it's all on them.
Boeing vastly overestimated what they can do and and expected to steamroll over spacex. After all they were expected to perform the first manned flights, before spacex. But the first test was when the wheels came off and they rolled off the road.
As I understand, they are already in the hole for over 500million bucks, cos of this retest. And they are not expected to profit at all, even if the rest of the booked flights are all flawless.
Given Boeing's ongoing litany of engineering, uh, challenges across do many of its programs, I'd be delighted if Congress added funding for the crew version of the DreamChaser shuttle to the upcoming budget.
DreamChaser will begin cargo operations next year, and was designed for human transport as well but want funded in the final round of that program's funding. Given the upcoming breadth of human stations, a third option would be most prudent.
Beyond a delightfully 70's retro design, what are the benefits for returning to a long runway spaceplane design over the current options? I can see some benefits over splash capsules, but as the tail landing rockets seem to be working themselves out, are there other big advantages of the glide decent model that counteract the benefits of the other designs?
I know the X-3* series vehicles are (probably) doing a bunch of the same stuff that the shuttle was originally designed to handle (Probably out of vandenburg too, go figure) so it might get some of that work too, and Vandenburg is setup to handle returning the orbiter from the landing back to the launch facility. The shuttle made that a bit silly when they were flying it back and forth cross country on the back of a giant jumbo jet.
Seems like tail landers are more suited to work off smaller footprint landing pads, nearer to their refurbishment hangars, and allowing tighter turnaround for relaunch. There also seems to be weight savings, which count the weight of pennies in 100£ notes due to the cruel reality of the rocket/fuel equations.
What do you think?
Rockets launch capsules or shuttles and then land on their tails (or in the case of Rocket Lab, parachute and get captured mid-air by a helicopter).
DreamChaser is equivalent to a capsule, not a rocket. Capsules either splash down in the ocean (all US capsules prior to Starliner) or touchdown on land with retros and / or airbags (Russian and Chinese capsules and Starliner).
Shuttles perform runway landings. This is much gentler for sensitive cargo, likely a major factor in DreamChaser selection as a cargo ship, and simplifies reuse. But they also have more interior space and greater flexibility for crew missions.
And they just look cool. Hard to put a price on that.
Yup, a runway-landing capsule supports far lower G-loading and heavier payloads brought back than is possible with airbags and splashdowns.
That alone makes it worth investing in the technology, as it permits landing payloads that would be impossible any other way.
From the SN website:
"Since Dream Chaser uses all non-toxic consumables, including propellants, there are no environmental or safety hazards that require unique ground support infrastructure. As a result, it has the potential to land anywhere that has a suitable 10,000 ft runway capable of handling a typical large passenger airplane. Almost immediately after landing, the Dream Chaser spaceplane offers access to cargo and crew. Additionally, a runway landing substantially increases safety and reduces risk because runways are developed, maintained and operated to strict domestic and international standards. With other spacecraft, such as capsules, a distant splash down into an ocean or remote landing crew and cargo retrieval is more labor intensive, takes longer to complete, requires more support infrastructure and introduces risk - including those related to injured crew or sensitive cargo. For scientists, researchers, and medical personnel, the benefits of the near-immediate accessibility afforded by runway landings are unmatched."
So landings are safer, cheaper, require less custom support infrastructure and gives immediate access to crew and cargo.
Guess which one Con-gress wanted?
Boeing charged more (and were given more) for this with their we're-THE-safe-pair-of-hands routine.
That BS fell apart on the first flight.
Basically bacause they had one set of actual thrusters (which being space grade are very expensive) and 2 translator boxes that converted "fire +ve roll thruster" in the software into a powerful enough drive signal to fire thruster 1 got mis-configured (because it appears no one was tracking the configuration data) into thruster anything-but-1.
IOW the hallmark of a large corporation that demanded top $ and ran a cheapskate development programme. :-(
Let's hope this time they actually take it seriously and do the job their engineers are capable of.
"Cost-cutting" seems to be a "thing" for Boeing to do...the 737 Max being another casualty of short cuts being made to save money...
The sad part is that lives are dependent on Boeing NOT cutting costs, so that travelling in one of their craft is safe for the "crew" and any passengers on board.
The name's a bit pretentious, but it seems to have mostly worked this time.
It was a a bit disappointing though. Few onboard cameras, much of the process being fed to us as animation. I guess I've grown used to SpaceX giving us live video of the entire flight to orbit. I missed seeing the boosters and first stage landing too. Somehow, despite the futuristic and pretentious name of the capsule, it all felt very retro :-/
Now, I'm off to paddle my rowing boat around the lake. I named it LEVIATHAN!!!