In a significant move of collaboration between two major players in the aerospace industry, Elon Musk's SpaceX has offered its expertise to Boeing to assist in the approval process for launching NASA crew missions using the Starliner spacecraft. Boeing has been diligently working on its Starliner project for years, aiming to fulfill its contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to provide crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). However, a series of setbacks and technical issues have delayed its progress.
The latest setback occurred in June, when Boeing postponed its planned July Starliner launch due to the discovery of two major issues. The first involved problems with the lines connecting the Starliner capsule to its parachutes, a critical component in ensuring a safe descent upon re-entry. The second issue involved the identification of flammable tape used inside the craft, raising safety concerns. Furthermore, Boeing has been facing financial challenges on the Starliner project since winning a $5 billion contract from NASA in 2014. The prolonged development and testing phase have reportedly led to $1.1 billion in losses for the company.
Enter SpaceX, a company that has already successfully completed multiple NASA flights under its contracted missions, now wants to help Boeing solve its spacecraft issues. On July 26, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had shared its technical details on parachute systems with Boeing. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is equipped with four parachutes that enable astronauts to land softly in the ocean when they return from space, Starliner plans to utilize a similar method for a safe return. “SpaceX provided its knowledge of crewed parachute systems to Boeing and we are happy to be helpful in any other ways. Designing parachutes for orbital, crewed spacecraft is much harder than it may seem. Was a major challenge for SpaceX,” shared Musk via X.
While Boeing, in collaboration with NASA and its parachute supplier, Airborne, has been working to rectify the identified issues and ensure the safety of the spacecraft, it appears that the launch is not expected until 2024. This delay is expected to give SpaceX the opportunity to complete more NASA flights before Boeing can send astronauts to the ISS.
SpaceX provided its knowledge of crewed parachute systems to Boeing and we are happy to be helpful in any other ways.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 26, 2023
Designing parachutes for orbital, crewed spacecraft is much harder than it may seem. Was a major challenge for SpaceX.
The NASA Commercial Crew Program, a pioneering initiative aimed at restoring America's ability to launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the ISS, has been a key driving force behind partnerships with private American companies like SpaceX and Boeing. SpaceX has been leading the way since May 2020, successfully launching 38 astronauts during ten crewed missions to date, seven of which were part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX has revitalized America's spaceflight capabilities since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
In contrast, Boeing's Starliner has yet to launch astronauts into space after experiencing multiple issues since its uncrewed test flight in 2019. NASA has made crew safety a top priority and has been thorough in its testing and evaluation processes. Despite the challenges faced by Boeing's Starliner project, the collaborative effort with SpaceX is a positive step towards addressing the technical hurdles and gaining approval for future NASA crew missions. With the support of industry leaders, NASA remains committed to fostering the development of safe, reliable, and cost-effective crew transportation systems that will further advance space exploration and enhance our presence in space.
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Featured Images Source: NASA / Boeing
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.