17 thoughts on “Boeing’s Tar Baby”

  1. I wonder at what point the company will just pull the plug on Starliner?

    When someone pulls the plug on their funding. It looks to me like they’re calling in sick on just about everything they do these days. Will they still be around in ten years?

  2. At this rate, I’m seriously doubting that their manned test will occur in 2021. As things stand, that’s predicated on pretty much everything going okay with OFT-2, and I find that increasingly doubtful.

    I’m dubious on Starship as a near term replacement though. It’ll take a lot of flights before that’s considered acceptable for manned NASA missions. That’ll take time.

    1. Starship can do a lot of flights in a year once they have a working model. Then it’s incremental improvements while operational, same as they did, and are doing, with the Raptor engine.

      1. I keep harping on this, but we should remember a couple of things. One is, a SuperHeavy with a stripped down, expendable upper stage is something Musk intends. He sometimes calls it Starkicker. It’s the same price as Falcon 9, but with ten times the payload. The other is, every Starship flight to anywhere but LEO involves multiple tanker missions, so the numer of launches will pile up fast.

        There’s also the fact that a crewed Starship with a LES is not impossible. You could adapt a Dragon 2 mounted inside a frangible nose fairing to act as an escape capsule during Earth launch/landing, or as a lifeboat during deep space cruise (pack the trunk with supplies and hope for the best). If you lose it on lunar or martian landing, you’re most likely toast, but I’d still go for the ride myself. This would limit crew size, but I think that’s going to happen anyway, until the flight safety comes down by quite a bit. To airliner levels? No. You’re going to Mars. It’s worth a little risk.

  3. They’re getting paid on a government contract. Success is not required. Extending it as long as they can, with or without success, is the goal. Cancellation is not a problem.

    I’ve been on both sides of the government contracting scam – and that’s what it is, a scam. The ideal sequence of events for a company is to submit a proposal for some solicitation, be awarded a contract, and carry it through preliminary and critical design review, then have the program canceled. The government will then have built up the maximum financial liability possible without actually procuring anything, and will have to pay its termination liability commitments to the company. In other words, the ideal program outcome is failure.

    The bid and proposal cost for an established government contractor is, by the way, reimbursed as part of any contractor’s overhead. So the “investment” a company makes to win a bid on paper isn’t a sunk cost. There is no cost associated with bidding, winning, or losing a government contract for an established government contractor. Becoming an established government contractor is much more difficult. I did it. Elon has done it in spades. But it costs a lot of money.

    Boeing has much more money than Elon has. But they refuse to spend any of it on anything the government will finance. One can argue whether that is sound fiduciary policy, given Boeing’s public corporate status, or not. But Elon has the only edge in terms of actually advancing the state of human spaceflight – money, and the willingness to use it.

    I have dealt with Elon numerous times, and admire him tremendously. I bet on him, not Boeing.

    1. Boeing is in a lot of trouble. At some point, they have to produce results, fully functional products. It would help their civilian business if they could point to their successful government business. You are exactly right in how you lay out the situation but as a long term strategy, it is planning to fail.

  4. Or, NASA could toss an on ramp to Sierra Nevada to ramp up development of a crew verison of Dream Chaser. If they really want a redundancy. Which, I think, they still do.

    1. NASA doesn’t want the situation where a single accident stops crewed spaceflight for multiple years, as happened both times following a Shuttle accident. Redundancy in capability isn’t just a nice to have thing, it’s essential. However, it doesn’t have to be provided by Boeing if they can’t get their act together.

      Developing a crewed version of Dream Chaser would be challenging. The cargo version is going to be launched inside of a payload fairing like the X-37. It would be difficult to make a fast acting LES from inside of a huge fairing. Removing the fairing would mean the launch vehicle would have to cope with aerodynamic forces from the Dream Chaser lifting body. Not impossible, but challenging.

      1. Soyuz and Shenzhou both illustrate exactly how you’d do a LES from inside a huge fairing. The escape rocket is on top of the fairing, and pulls everything off. Then the fairing opens, the orbital and service modules are ejected, and the crew capsule descends under its parachutes. For Dream Chaser, you’d want a somewhat longer-firing solid rocket in the tower. Then when the fairing opened, the spaceplane would pop its wings into position, ignite its own hypergolic OMS engines, and start to fly. The devil is in the details, but it’s not conceptually difficult. Worst case, you might want to mount a parachute on the spaceplane for vertical descent to a water landing (rather than trying to ditch).

        1. Agreed on the LES taking the Dream Chaser and fairing off together. Soyuz did it once, operationally, off the launch pad, and the crew survived.

          Not sure about the need for a parachute, though. Dream Chaser is based on the design of the HL-20 lifting body, which in turn is somewhat derived from the HL-10. The flat-ish underside of the HL-10 tempted the Dryden design team to do away with landing gear – they thought it might be better to just belly land. Bruce Peterson’s nearly fatal M2-F2 crash was due to his split second delay in dropping the gear, and having the gear door catch on the ground. (During his landing flare, he saw a helicopter dead ahead, and was deciding whether to jink to the side of it or not.)

          I was incredulous when I saw that NASA’s version of the HL-20 took a perfectly flyable and landable lifting body, and had it land with a parafoil! (Sierra Nevada’s first Dream Chaser flight had one landing gear fail to extend, which shows you nothing’s guaranteed). But the shape of Dream Chaser makes it a pretty good candidate for water ditching. Given the weight penalty of parachutes, and the low probability of them every being needed, I would bet the trade studies come out against them.

          1. My thought is, Crew Dream Chaser would be just the spaceplane, without the Shooting Star module. It would probably be light enough it could mount one of those mortar parachutes available for civil aviation planes, and the extra weight wouldn’t matter in the context of six crew and no cargo. Wing snaps off. Wing fails to deploy. Coming down in the north Atlantic. The parachute would be there.

            The other thing I’d like to see is the evolution of Shooting Star into something like an ad hoc PMA, able to berth to ISS (or whatever) and provide a passive NDS on the other end. I’ve been wondering what ISS spares are still on the ground and in good shape. Or what Thales Alenia is prepared to build, if asked.

      2. The main problem with launching Dream Chaser unshrouded is the asymmetric lift forces from the wings. I’m thinking the way to get around most of this problem is to keep the wing-folding feature developed for the cargo version as part of the crew version. Lift forces from the wings would simply keep them folded even more tightly on ascent and the net of such forces from both wings would be toward the centerline of the vehicle stack. There might be a bit of imbalance in the forces compared to something with pure radial symmetry, but the residuum would be trivial compared to a pair of extended wings.

        Keeping the folded wings would also simplify the job of designing the new crew version in the first place. Compared to the cargo version, the main differences would be the addition of windows, interior crew fitments and a boarding door/hatch for the crew to use at the Earthbound launch site.

        The expendable cargo/service module could stay except for its external unpressurized cargo fitments. In their place could go some added bits of aerostructure designed to compensate for residual departures from radial symmetry of aerodynamic forces on ascent. The solar arrays would need new, jettisonable aerocovers. A tunnel through the cargo module’s middle would allow alternate crew ingress/egress at ISS and still allow volume for a certain amount of pressurized cargo on ascent and an equivalent volume of trash upon departure.

    1. If OFT-2 is a full success, I expect NASA and Beoing to return to the idea it can be a full crew rotation mission, taking the slot now proposed for Dragon Crew-3, and handing off to Starliner-1 at the end of 2021. The new commander has done an ISS tour and has 4 EVAs under his belt. Post OFT-2, look to see a fourth crewperson added to CFT.

  5. I read a thread on another board regarding Boeing. I am beginning to think as bad as SLS is, the fact Boeing is the prime made it three times worse. That almost any other prime would have at least generated a functional product by now. Unfortunately, building SLS out of shuttle legacy parts locked them into that role by default.

  6. It occurred to me you could upgrade Dragon with something like a Pirs/Poisk docking module which would fit inside a Dragon trunk (it could be attached to the upper stage rather than the trunk, so could be left behind in an abort). Minor mods would including swapping APAS for NDS (passive on one end, active on the other) and maybe so solar cells/radiators on the outside. This would more than double the space and functionality of the Dragon, and if you wanted to buy one from the Russians, they’re made from Soyuz orbital module components. Doing the same for Starliner would be harder, because you’d have to reengineer how the service module was supported in order to create a fairing for the docking module.

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