SpaceX vs Boeing
This week, SpaceX achieved a remarkable milestone in the history of commercial spaceflight, making the first splashdown by American astronauts in 45 years. The two NASA astronauts were the crew of the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to make a return trip from the International Space Station (ISS).
This significant milestone also marks SpaceX’s leap in the commercial race for spacecraft, and a victory over their main rival, Boeing. NASA initially turned to SpaceX and Boeing to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and these two companies have been in tight competition ever since.
This public-private partnership program was started in 2009 by President Barack Obama in the hopes of accelerating progress in the development of spacecraft and the mission of the International Space Station.
Competition between SpaceX and Boeing was intense, as SpaceX had a massive amount of funding, totaling $3.1 billion, while Boeing received $4.8 billion in contracts. Boeing, a longtime contractor for NASA, was expected to launch its test of the Starliner spacecraft months before SpaceX would launch their Crew Dragon.
However, the reality did not go according to plan as Boeing has faced some significant development issues, including a major software glitch that forced the company to abort their trip to the International Space Station in 2019.
This major setback, combined with concerns from an independent NASA analysis and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, have led to major delays in Boeing’s timeline.
A combined review from NASA and Boeing led to a total list of 80 “recommendations” which Boeing needs to address before it resumes test flights. Despite this significant laundry list, Boeing has dove head first to address these concerns and has created a thorough action plan in the hopes of resuming test flights by 2021.
But with SpaceX already having completed their first crewed flight to the International Space Station, Boeing still faces many hurdles ahead.
While Boeing has fallen behind in this race, the company has a lot of experience on their side. One of the most significant cards in their hand is from their acquisition of Rockwell, an aerospace and defense company that was instrumental in the construction of both the Apollo Command Module and the Space Shuttle, in 1996.
Boeing has a wealth of aerospace experience to draw on, as well as an incredible amount of engineers and scientists. Furthermore, unlike SpaceX, it also has larger financial reserves to draw on, and better access to contracts, meaning that despite SpaceX’s initial lead, Boeing still has a fighting chance.
The bitter battle between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner is a prime example of the effect that competition and commercialization has had on the aerospace industry, and the potential for future space travel and exploration.
Sending men into space via US rockets was estimated by NASA to cost over $25 billion dollars, but was completed by SpaceX for less than $1 billion dollars. Competition breeds innovation.
Written by Ramsay Bader
Edited by Calvin Ma, Alexander Fleiss, Rohan Mehta & Gihyen Eom