In 2014, NASA embarked upon a three-year mission to discover new methods of sending astronauts to the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) and to hunt out new partnerships with non-public trade, tasking SpaceX and Boeing (BA 5.64%) with a request to construct two new spaceships for a mixed $6.8 billion. SpaceX would obtain $2.6 billion to design and construct a Crew Dragon spacecraft by 2017, and use it to ship astronauts to ISS six instances. Boeing can be paid $4.2 billion to do the identical factor.
Finally, it might take SpaceX not three however six years to launch its first crewed spaceflight (Demo-2, in 2020). However as soon as that was achieved, SpaceX rapidly hit its stride, launching 4 new absolutely licensed “Crew” missions over the subsequent two years. Boeing is taking a bit longer to satisfy its contract, lastly finishing an uncrewed check flight simply final month, and Boeing has but to ship up its “Starliner” spacecraft with astronauts really aboard.
And this tardiness goes to price Boeing — huge time.
SpaceX: 14, Boeing: 6
With SpaceX the one house contractor that had confirmed itself able to launching astronauts to orbit safely (one thing that is still true right now), NASA awarded SpaceX three extra crewed house missions final yr at a worth of roughly $300 million per launch.
However Boeing is now mere months away from finishing its check flights with a crewed demonstration mission, and proving itself a viable competitor to SpaceX. You’d assume NASA would need to pause at this level and see how Boeing performs on its upcoming “Boeing Crew Flight Check” earlier than handing out any extra contracts. However no. As a substitute, on June 1, NASA introduced it was awarding 5 extra crew missions — and all of them are going to SpaceX.
NASA has determined to maintain ISS operational by 2030, you see. In consequence, “there’s a want for added crew rotation missions to maintain a protected and sustainable flight cadence all through the rest of the house station’s deliberate operations.” The plan going ahead is for “every industrial supplier [to fly] alternating missions as soon as per yr.” That seems to imply that yearly from now by 2030 — i.e. eight extra years — every of SpaceX and Boeing will fly as soon as per yr.
The maths would not work out precisely like that, nonetheless.
Take into account: Up to now, SpaceX has flown 4 Crew missions to ISS. Boeing has flown zero. Two missions stay in SpaceX’s authentic six-mission allotment, plus the three missions awarded final yr, plus the 5 missions simply awarded this month — so SpaceX nonetheless has 10 missions to go. Boeing has all of its authentic six missions remaining.
Collectively, it is true the 2 firms have 16 missions awarded — two per yr, instances eight years. However it seems like SpaceX will likely be flying barely extra regularly than as soon as per yr by 2030, and Boeing barely much less typically.
The upshot for Boeing traders
Though NASA reserves the correct to make “extra contract modifications sooner or later for added transportation providers as wanted,” proper now it seems just like the house company has purchased all of the crewed launch missions it wants by the tip of ISS’s lifespan in 2030. Thus, Boeing will not get an opportunity to bid for any extra contracts past the six launches that it initially received again in 2014.
Now, there’s nonetheless the query of what occurs after ISS is retired in 2030. A handful of house firms have, for instance, floated the prospect of constructing non-public house stations. Boeing would possibly need to present house taxi providers to and from these after ISS goes darkish. Up to now, although, the corporate making probably the most progress towards constructing a non-public house station is Axiom Area — and Axiom has already carried out one flight to ISS aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and contracted for 3 extra such flights with SpaceX.
What does this imply for Boeing and its future in house?
One risk is that Boeing convinces Axiom to diversify its house taxi suppliers by hiring Boeing’s Starliner for some future flights. Boeing can also be a accomplice on Jeff Bezos’s Orbital Reef house station idea, although, in cooperation with Blue Origin and Sierra Area. Whereas it is anybody’s guess whether or not “Orbital Reef” will really occur, if it does that station would possibly present a second marketplace for Boeing’s Starliner.
Absent Boeing touchdown Axiom or Orbital Reef as a buyer, although, there is a very actual threat at this level that Starliner will grow to be a product seeking a purchaser — and an enormous sunk price for Boeing. And that will not be excellent news in any respect for Boeing inventory.