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Boeing received & # 39; unnecessary & # 39; contract increase for space capsule: report



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This NASA photo, released November 4, 2019, shows the Boeings CST-100 Starliners launching four stop motors and various orbital thrusters and attitude control thrusters as they light up at the company's Abortion Test, pushing the probe away from the bench. with 160,000 pounds of thrust from Launch Complex 32 in the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

HO / NASA / AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Boeing's billion-dollar contract to build US astronaut capsules has been "unnecessarily" extended by NASA, a surveillance report said on Thursday, the latest management errors in the agency's restart program. the human domestic space flight.

NASA has agreed to pay Boeing Co a $ 287 million premium for "additional flexibilities" to accelerate production of the company's Starliner crew vehicle and avoid an 18-month gap in flights to the International Space Station. NASA's inspector general considered this an "unreasonable" boost to Boeing's $ 4.2 billion fixed-price contract.

Instead, the inspector general said the space agency could save $ 144 million by making "simple changes" to Starliner's planned launch schedule, including the purchase of additional seats from Russia's space agency, on which the United States depends. since the 2011 retirement of space. transportation program.

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Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX have received nearly $ 7 billion combined since 2014 from NASA to develop separate capsule systems designed to end US reliance on Russia's Soyuz rocket for astronaut flights to the International Space Station. The program was delayed for years, testing setbacks at both suppliers.

NASA justified additional funds to avoid a gap in space station operations. But SpaceX, the other supplier, "was not given the opportunity to come up with a solution even though the company offered shorter production times than Boeing," the report said.

NASA also justified the additional expense to ensure Boeing "remained a second commercial crew supplier," the report said.

Boeing was not immediately available for comment.

In response to the inspector general's report, NASA "strongly" disagreed with the report's findings that it overpaid Boeing, although it agreed that "complex and extensive" negotiations with the aerospace company could have resulted in a lower price.

"However, that is an opinion three years after the fact and there is no evidence to support the conclusion that Boeing would have agreed to lower prices," the agency said in a letter to the inspector general.

The report comes as Boeing faces a close examination of NASA's Space Launch System management – a huge rocket whose development has been affected by delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns. It also faced harsh criticism from US lawmakers over its top-selling 737 MAX aircraft, which was suspended after two fatal accidents in five months killing 346 people.

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