Boeing stated on October 27 that it will take an extra $185 million charge against profits to cover the expenses of resuming flight operations for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle.
The charge was reported in the company’s second-quarter financial results, and it was prompted by the second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test, which is currently scheduled for 2022, as well as the most recent appraisal of outstanding work. After software glitches shortened the initial OFT mission in December 2019, the corporation incurred a $410 million charge in January 2020 to cover the expenses of completing a second uncrewed flight.
OFT-2, Boeing’s second uncrewed test flight, was supposed to take place in early August, however, a launch attempt was canceled hours before liftoff due to valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system, not opening. Engineers discovered 13 valves that had become locked shut, most likely as a result of nitrogen tetroxide propellant seeping through the valves and mixing with moisture, resulting in nitric acid that corroded the valves.
NASA and Boeing’s officials said in an Oct. 19 briefing that they were still investigating the problem, including why the corrosion was found on the Starliner for OFT-2 when it did not occur before the first OFT mission, or during a fire test of the Starliner service module or a pad abort test in 2019. This ongoing study involves extracting valves from the spaceship for lengthy testing and subjecting comparable valves to the same circumstances as OFT-2, such as humidity and temperature.
During an earnings call with financial analysts, Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun briefly addressed the problem. As previously announced, the NASA and Boeing teams have determined the most likely cause of the valve problem on our commercial crew Starliner, and we are working on remedial and preventative activities, he stated. We are actively exploring options for the second Orbital Flight Test flight in 2022, subject to hardware readiness, rocket manifest, and space station availability.
As we have shown, we will continue to prioritize the safety of our personnel, crew members, and spacecraft as we develop, he said. He did not go into additional information about the issue, and none of the analysts who participated in the call questioned it.
When Boeing took the first profits charge, it stated that it did so because it agreed to redo the uncrewed flight test at no cost to NASA, which a Boeing executive reiterated at the Oct. 19 conference. There will be no additional fees paid to the government as a result of this. The Boeing Company will ensure to cover as they develop this vehicle, stated Boeing’s commercial crew program.
They declined to say if the higher costs would prohibit Boeing from ever profiting from the Starliner program, for which the firm obtained a $4.2 billion fixed-price contract from NASA in 2014 to construct and operate.
Boeing’s difficulties contrast with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew contractor, which is preparing for its third operational crewed flight to the International Space Station on Oct. 31. Technical issues, such as one with the toilet on Crew Dragon, have not hindered those plans, and SpaceX is working on a remedy ahead of that flight.
They declined to comment on any differences in how Boeing and SpaceX tackle technical difficulties, save to say that Boeing has historically employed a classic systems engineering approach when dealing with NASA.