Boeing’s near-decade-long fumble continues — and SpaceX continues to charge ahead.
Back in June, Boeing announced that the crewed launch of its many-billion-dollar Starliner — a privately-built spacecraft that’s long been billed as a competitor to SpaceX’s growing arsenal, but particularly its astronaut-launching Crew Dragon — had been delayed yet again, this time due to another round of hardware issues.
As a result, Boeing said on Monday, Starliner won’t launch until March 2024 at the earliest. And NASA, which has an ungodly amount of cash vested into the still-unrealized crewed craft, will be separately investigating its failures (which, this time, are specifically related to its parachutes’ “soft link” joints system and, uh, flammable tape lining the craft’s interior, according to Space.com.) Per Ars Technica, Boeing is now facing three separate NASA inquiries as it eyes a hopeful 2024 test.
It’s an embarrassing failure on the military contractor’s behalf, and as ExtremeTech points out, this latest Boeing fumble only highlights the growing gap between the longtime aerospace titan and the newer, Elon Musk-helmed SpaceX — and rest assured, SpaceX is winning that battle. Big time.
For the uninitiated, Boeing and SpaceX were simultaneously awarded flush NASA contracts to build crewed rockets back in 2014, a major milestone in NASA’s renewed efforts to get humans back into space.
But over the years since, Boeing’s quest to kick its Starliner into gear have been nothing short of cursed. Though the Boeing-built spacecraft did finally make it into orbit — and manage to succesfully dock, uncrewed, at the ISS last year — its attempts at a crewed mission have been plagued by a long series of hardware and software issues, straight-up shoddiness, and shameful company attempts to skirt basic safety precautions to boot.
As it stands, per ExtremeTech, Boeing has reported a staggering $1.1 billion in losses on Starliner. Given the vast expense of the spacecraft, each unforced error has left Boeing and NASA with a fair share of egg on their faces.
SpaceX, meanwhile, has charged ahead, with the Musk-founded firm now eyeing its seventh crewed flight for NASA, slated for later this month. So, you know, probably safe to say that America’s space agency has a favorite kid.
Can’t blame ’em, though. By all accounts, Boeing’s Starliner is a total failson, and even with the family gold card in hand, it just can’t seem to get its shit together. Could Starliner finally find its footing in 2024? Maybe. But we won’t hold our breath.