Boeing Preparing Layoff Notices in Case of Commercial Crew Loss

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Hoping for the best, but preparing for defeat, Boeing will send out about 215 potential layoff notices to employees currently working on its NASA CST-100 Commercial Crew program.

The 60-day notices, required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), were distributed June 20 to about 170 employees in Houston and 45 in Florida in case Boeing is not selected for an upcoming Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, Boeing spokesman Adam Morgan told SpaceNews.

“It’s just a standard way … to minimize potential business impact,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Commercial Crew program manager.

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The CST-100 capsule is one of three spaceships being developed by private companies in partnership with NASA, which lost the ability to fly astronauts when the U.S. space shuttles were retired in 2011.

The effort to develop a lower-cost and safer U.S. alternative — and break Russia’s monopoly on station crew transport in the process — is expected to conclude in late August or September when NASA selects one or more space taxi designs for development and test flights. Competing against the Boeing CST-100 are Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Dragon capsule and Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser.

“I think it would be hard to close a business case without that backstop of NASA development funds,” Mulholland said.

Along with the WARN notices, in case of a win Boeing is making contingency offers to about 15 employees in Houston to transfer to Florida, where the CST-100 program will be based. The company also will post 75 expected new jobs in Florida, Morgan said.

Mulholland said “several hundred” employees currently work on the CST-100 program, including just under 100 in Florida.

Sierra Nevada currently is not preparing any WARN notices to its Dream Chaser workforce, said company Vice President Mark Sirangelo, who oversees the project.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance, which has agreements to fly both the CST-100 and the Dream Chaser on its Atlas 5 rockets, is preparing to build a crew access tower at its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad in Florida.

Contingent on Boeing winning a CCtCap award, the addition to Launch Complex 41 is slated to begin Sept. 1. So far, all of the design work on the tower has been focused on the CST-100, ULA’s Chief Operating Officer Dan Collins said.