15 thoughts on “Starliner”

  1. Who’s gonna actually fly a crew first– SLS/Orion or Boeing? At the current rate, it appears the DreamChaser folks have a good chance of orbiting astronauts before either.

  2. This looks like Boeing anted up in order to suck the money out of the program. NASA front-loading the payments was a sweetheart deal (because of their lobbying strength). They never intended to deliver anything, so the only way they would get money is with NASA breaking their own rules and dispensing payment for *not* delivering something, “But it will be finished real soon now!”

    So the money’s pretty much gone now, thrown into the endless maw of the jobs program that is Boeing. Look for them to either get out (the locusts will fly), or try to get more funding to keep up the conveyor.

    Results? None that can be used.

  3. I checked on this, and there is still $2.2 billion left to be paid (in response to milestones being met) on Boeing’s $4.2B Commercial Crew contract. It’s not as front-loaded as I thought!


    Whatever the plan was, it didn’t work out. They’ve gotten only half their money, have taken $900 million in charges against earnings, and they’re likely going to need to take out even more now.

    1. Very cool website! I’m sure that it will eventually be used to embarrass someone in office, then it will be taken down.

  4. Aside from engineering mistakes, which happen, I think Boeing made a programmatic mistake by going for cargo missions as a prelude to manned flights. SpaceX got an enormous amount of experience and development doing the Dragon cargo flights instead of not flying anything until they were ready for Crew Dragon testing.

    In an unrelated thought, Boeing went with a liquid-fueled pusher escape system while Orion with with a solid-fueled tractor. Shouldn’t there be a liquid-fueled tractor option where the tower just holds the engines (some Super-Draco equivalents) fed from the maneuvering systems fuel supply, with a the tower and tower fuel lines jettisoned during ascent, as is normally done?

    1. This option is (almost) the worst of both worlds. You throw away the engines and the support structure for the tractor every time you don’t need them and have the added complexity of plumbing going to the escape tower that has to seal off for every successful flight. The only thing going for it is that you retain some propellant for a successful flight that can be used in the RCS. A pusher system saves the engines and the propellant and the engines can be tested and certified before launch.

      1. It is the best of worlds, it is the worst of worlds.

        You get rid of the weight of the engines and their main control valves before you get to orbit, and so that dead weight is gone for maneuver, re-entry, and landing, along with the structural reinforcement and heat shield complexities necessary for placing them on the capsule’s sides as with Dragon. It also allows for a tractor system without the weight of the abort system’s entire fuel mass being up on the tower, with the structural loads having to pass all the way down through the entire capsule.

        Elon would never do it because it would be upping costs by throwing eight engines and control systems away unnecessarily, but Boeing wouldn’t blink at using solid motors laminated out of $100 bills.

        The two fuel lines to feed the tower would have burst disks in the capsule, while the tower lines could use quick disconnects because nobody would care if there was some minor external leakage while the tower was activated, since it would be turning the outside of the capsule into a giant ball of fire anyway.

        At least if the system was on a tower it could be quickly swapped out, whereas in Boeings designs it would probably take three or four months to burrow into the part of the service module where the Starliner’s abort motors are mounted.

        But mostly I was curious as to why I’ve never seen it even considered, or perhaps it wasn’t considered back in the Apollo era when they wanted to absolute reliability of a solid abort system, and only Orion seems to have seriously revisited the tower idea.

        1. Those are some looong fuel lines and they’ll have to be pretty large diameter to get the thrust you need. And you throw away an engine every flight. A relatively simple hypergolic engine, but an engine nonetheless.

          1. To SpaceX, throwing away an engine is a major drawback, but launching an Orion on the SLS is kind of an ultra-expensive engine disposal contest anyway. “Got some RS-25’s taken from the Smithsonian and reworked by a team of monks for a decade at a cost of billions? Just toss them in the ocean and hope they don’t hit a sea turtle!” ^_^

            I can’t stand tractors myself, as it’s a kludge, an abort system as an afterthought. I once calculated that for the same weight as the Orion abort system, they could install a circular steel plate the diameter of the capsule and the thickness of the frontal armor on a Sherman tank and just ride out an explosion. But it wouldn’t help for a pad abort.

            Making the rocket far more reliable and dispensing with the abort system altogether might be another interesting approach. Someone should perhaps study that idea.

          2. I just had another thought about the strength of having a built in pusher abort rocket on the Dragon 2. If a returning Dragon had a catastrophic parachute failure, it would seem to be possible to have an abort mode where the Super Dracos fire to provide for a survivable splashdown. I don’t know if that abort mode has been programmed in, but it probably should be.

          3. Whether Dragon 2 can fire it’s SuperDracos in the event of a parachute failure is an open question, as is whether the software would support an emergency propulsive landing, which would require some careful throttling. As far as I know the answer is a secret. There is an emergency abort button on the console below the touchscreens, but I don’t know if it’s live right before landing. If it is, there’s a brief moment, needing perfect timing, to punch the button and brace for impact. I hope we never find out, which is why Dragon 2 has 4 parachutes instead of only 3.

        2. Tractor Launch Escape Systems require a lot more thrust than pushers, a fact associated with the need to pull the spacecraft off during transonic and max-Q. During those flight periods, the interstage between launch vehicle and spacecraft is at a lower static pressure than the total pressure of the freestream, and holds the two together. A pusher located in the interstage will break that grip (Dragon’s LES doesn’t do that, but it is reusable). Solids were used for the Mercury and Apollo LES because they could produce the necessary thrust.

        3. There’s no reason you couldn’t put the expendable pusher LES below the expendable service module. That’d facilitate swap out as well, but part of the Starliner problem is, it’s the RCS engine valves as well as the LES engines. Worrying about the tape is probably overkill.

  5. It can’t compete in the free market. Too expensive, too little experience, too many faults.

    This taxpayer says “kill it”.

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