Surprised by how lopsided NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) awards were yesterday?
You shouldn’t be.
For starters, we’ve been here before. In December 2008, NASA agreed to paysome $1.6 billion to haul a minimum of 20 metric tons to the international space station spread over 12 flights while Orbital Sciences Corp. would get $1.9 billion to fly eight space station re-supply flights. That made Orbital’s price nearly 80 percent higher on a per-flight basis (although just 20 percent higher on a per-ton basis).
Boeing’s just-awarded CCtCap contract, at $4.2 billion, is roughly 60 percent higher than the $2.6 billion NASA has agreed to pay SpaceX to do more or less the same thing — complete development and certification of a ballistic capsule and conduct at least one test flight with both NASA and commercial crew members on board.
The difference today is largely the same as it was in 2008: SpaceX is further along at the time of award.
What’s more, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk predicted four years ago that Boeing ultimately would get the larger commercial crew award. As Musk put it in a statement to Reuters PE Hub blog in June 2010:
NASA is expecting to offer at least two contracts for development and demonstration of crew transport to the Space Station, as they have done for cargo transport. SpaceX will compete to win one of those contracts. For cargo transport, SpaceX won twelve missions and Orbital won eight. Orbital’s monetary award was higher even though they are doing fewer missions, because NASA didn’t want to depend on a single source. For crew transport, I would expect Boeing or Lockheed to win the bulk of the funding and hopefully we will be second. [emphasis added]