SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has proposed sharing his private space company’s hard-earned rocket knowledge and expertise to assist aerospace competitor Boeing in getting its troubled Starliner spacecraft ready for flight.
Musk tweeted Wednesday that SpaceX already provided Boeing insight into designing parachute systems for spacecraft, and would be “happy to be helpful in any other ways” to finally get the Starliner orbital test mission off the ground after years of delays.
“Designing parachutes for orbital, crewed spacecraft is much harder than it may seem. Was a major challenge for SpaceX,” Musk noted.
Boeing’s Starliner Struggles
Boeing was awarded a $4.2 billion NASA contract in 2014 to develop the Starliner capsule to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, part of the agency’s Commercial Crew program.
But the aerospace giant has struggled to successfully launch the Starliner even once since the program began. The latest test flight attempt in June was scrubbed just days before liftoff due to valve issues with the propulsion system.
According to CNBC, Boeing has now racked up $1.5 billion in losses on Starliner, taking a $257 million write-down in Q2 2022. The company is aiming to try another test flight sometime in 2023.
Meanwhile, rival SpaceX has already completed five crewed missions and launched over 60 Falcon 9 rockets just this year.
SpaceX’s Hard-Earned Rocket Expertise
Having engineered brand new rockets and spacecraft from scratch, SpaceX endured its own failures and setbacks before mastering orbital launch capabilities — experience Musk appears willing to share to help Boeing get Starliner operational.
SpaceX designed and built its own parachutes to land the Crew Dragon capsule that took years to develop and qualify for astronaut flights. Musk considers parachutes one of the most challenging components of orbital spacecraft.
By offering to lend SpaceX’s firsthand engineering experience, Boeing could combine forces with cutting-edge space technology knowledge to hopefully fast-track solutions for Starliner’s ongoing technical issues.
Teaming up rivals in this way would demonstrate how cooperation furthers innovation and brings collective expertise together for the benefit of space exploration. And NASA would gain essential redundancy in accessing the International Space Station.
Boeing and SpaceX By the Numbers
- 0 orbital test flights completed
- $4.2 billion NASA contract awarded in 2014
- $1.5 billion in losses reported by July 2022
SpaceX Crew Dragon:
- 5 crewed missions successfully completed
- 60+ Falcon 9 rockets launched in 2022
- Designed and built its own parachute systems
Final Chance for Starliner?
With SpaceX rapidly expanding capabilities and reaching new milestones, Boeing’s Starliner capsule risks becoming obsolete before ever getting off the ground.
By accepting Musk’s offer of assistance, Boeing has the opportunity to pair its extensive aerospace expertise with SpaceX’s real-world rocket development experience. Combining strengths could provide the breakthrough Boeing needs to finally get Starliner launching.
NASA and all space enthusiasts are hopeful the industry giants can come together to advance American spaceflight — proving cooperation conquers the immense challenges ahead.
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