Boeing charges Starliner another fee for its profits

Boeing said July 27 that it will charge another fee for its earnings due to its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew program as the company and NASA approach the vehicle’s first flight with astronauts on board.

Boeing, in its second-quarter financial results statement, said it posted $93 million in the second quarter of its commercial crew program, “driven by launch statement updates and additional costs associated with OFT-2,” the vehicle’s second unmanned test flight that occurred in May.

The company did not explain the specific issues that caused the fees, and only briefly mentioned the program during an earnings call with financial analysts dominated by the company’s commercial aircraft programs.

β€œIt was important. It was an emotional ‘rise’ for all of us at Boeing to get back on track,” said David Calhoun, Boeing President and CEO, on the call, referring to the OFT-2 test. He later described the mission as a ‘pivotal and emotional test for the company’ Boeing and we are satisfied with that and we are ready for the manned flight.”

Boeing has now recorded $688 million in fees related to Starliner development. The company was awarded $410 million in January 2020, a month after the original and unsuccessful orbital flight test mission, to cover the costs of investigating problems and running a second mission. The company took an additional $185 million in dividends in October 2021 after a fuse issue delayed the launch of OFT-2 last August.

Despite this, OFT-2’s six-day mission in May was largely successful, with no major problems reported during launch of the spacecraft, docking with the International Space Station and returning to Earth. That leaves the possibility to proceed with Starliner’s first flight with astronauts on board, called the Crew Test Flight (CFT), before the end of the year.

β€œI saw the Starliner dock with the ISS, paving the way for crew flight testing later this year and realizing the local iteration that is so important to the ISS mission,” said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and ISS program manager. He said in remarks July 26 at the ISS Research and Development Conference here.

NASA announced on June 16 that the CFT will fly two astronauts, Sonny Williams and Butch Willmore, instead of the three who originally planned the mission. Williams was transferred to the CFT from Starliner-1, the first operational mission of the Starliner. Nicole Mann, originally assigned to work at the CFT, was reassigned last year to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission that launched in September. Mike Fink, also previously assigned to the CFT, will train as a CFT backup and be available for future flight assignments.

NASA announced at the time that the CFT mission would last two weeks, having previously suggested keeping it on the station for up to six months. The agency said a two-week mission is “sufficient to meet all NASA and Boeing test objectives for the CFT”, and no longer stay is required because Crew Dragon is now taking over crew rotation duties.

If the CFT is successful, Starliner could begin operational missions as soon as the fall of 2023, following the launch of the SpaceX Crew-6 mission in the spring of 2023. This will be the first of six missions within the Commercial Crew Transport Capabilities, or CCtCap, contract awarded in 2014. NASA has already added three flights to the six awarded to SpaceX under its CCtCap call, and announced on June 1 its intention to add five more.

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