A NASA report has revealed that the agency is set to pay 60% more for seats to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Boeing Starliner compared to the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
The November 14 NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report examined the progress of the agency’s commercial crew program. In addition to citing several issues facing the program, the report offered the first estimated price breakdown of the two commercial crew systems.
Boeing’s Starliner vehicle will be launched aboard an Atlas V from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. The cost to launch aboard this system is currently estimated at $90 million per seat. In contrast, the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is estimated at $55 million per seat.
Most damningly, on top of the $90 million per seat cost being more than 60% that of the SpaceX alternative, the amount is also $10 million more than NASA currently pays for Soyuz seats.
Since 2017, the agency has paid an average of $79.7 million per seat aboard Soyuz vehicles. This amount is generally believed to also subsidize seats for Russiam cosmonauts. As a result, the more than $10 million a seat price gap may be significantly greater.
In addition to the inflated cost of Starliner seats, the NASA OIG report also found that Boeing had been awarded $287.2 million more than SpaceX to deliver the same service. It suggests that this additional amount was awarded to ensure that Boeing did not pull out of the commercial crew program.
“We found that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing’s fixed prices to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019 and to ensure the contractor continued as a second commercial crew provider, without offering similar opportunities to SpaceX,” the report states.
Despite the funding and cost discrepancies, the report laid out serious concerns that NASA could lose access to the International Space Station should issues with the commercial crew program persist.