Since 1993, Boeing has been the primary partner for NASA’s International Space Station (ISS), and last year, NASA extended their contract with the company for another four years. Throughout all this time, the two major players have proven to have a lot to offer to one another, and the contributions that Boeing has made on behalf of NASA’s interests have been critical to the advancement of space travel and exploration.
Now that this partnership is in the news, with Boeing’s Starliner OFT-2 set to launch in less than a week, it’s the appropriate time to take a look back at the numerous ways in which this partnership has proven to be enormously lucrative.
Why Boeing Partnered Up with NASA
Boeing is the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft, and their resources, skills and innovations made them an obvious choice when NASA sought out a contractor to build their International Space Station back in 1993. Further, Boeing was one of the few contractors with access to the funds needed to take on such a massive project.
This wouldn’t be the first time Boeing majorly contributed to NASA. Many forget that the company played a large role in the successful moon landing that famously occurred in 1969. It was Boeing who developed early stages of the spacecraft that would facilitate the mission, and the company also developed the technical integration and evaluation (TIE) for Apollo to enable efficient logistics and testing that ensured a safe and secure journey.
Since then, Boeing has contributed to NASA’s missions in many ways, developing all kinds of technology that has enabled NASA to propel itself into the future of space travel in ways that are both safe and cost-efficient.
Back in 2016, Boeing was responsible for NASA’s TDRS (tracking and data relay satellite) constellation. This constellation, completely developed and built by Boeing, is a network of high-bandwidth satellites responsible for communication between spacecraft and Earth and has since been used to ensure communication for the Hubble, human space flight, the ISS and much more.
The TDRS holds a lot of promise while being extremely cost-efficient and will play a major role in communications between Earth and Mars in the future, at a time when interest in Mars travel is at an all-time high.
United Launch Alliance
In 2006, Boeing teamed up with Lockheed Martin to develop the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Lockheed Martin has played an integral role in defense, security and technology pertaining to aerospace travel since 1995, and Boeing’s partnership with them has enabled more affordable space travel while helping greatly to commercialize it.
As it stands, the ULA is the most utilized launch agency, having an astounding 100% success rate and having launched over 140 individual missions since 2006. Currently, this partnership is developing means for enabling accessible space tourism.
Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, engineered and built by Boeing, is NASA’s most powerful rocket. Involved in this project is the building of the Artemis I and II, and this particular contribution is responsible for landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon. Currently, it sits in Mississippi at the Stennis Space Center, where tests are still being performed to ensure safety and efficiency.
Boeing’s partnership with NASA has been in the news this past week due to the initially planned and now slightly delayed launch of the Starliner OFT-2 flight. The delay means that it won’t launch until August 3, after its initial plan to launch on July 29. The delay was the result of an issue with Russia’s Nauka module, docked at the International Space Station.
The delay is only a few days, but space enthusiasts have found themselves disappointed regardless due to the excitement that the mission has generated. It’s one of the most highly anticipated space missions in some time, as the Starliner has gained a lot of media hype.
So, what is the Starliner? Developed by Boeing, it’s a reusable crew capsule system designed specially to transport crew to and from the International Space Station and other destinations within Earth’s low orbit. It’s been one of the major projects between NASA and Boeing, and a large part of why the partnership was first developed in 1993.
The Starliner holds several passengers at a time, as well as plenty of cargo, and serves a crucial role as it makes the transportation far more low-cost, so that missions can take place to and from the ISS in a way that doesn’t massively cut into NASA’s resources.
OFT-2 is the second mission of the Starliner, and the goal is mainly to demonstrate its capabilities to NASA, including its ability to successfully dock at the ISS. NASA will be carefully analyzing its performance to ensure that the mission is safe, and that all of the intricate technology works as promised. So far, the Starliner has already undergone extensive testing, and due to its reusable technology, it’s been tested especially rigorously as the concept is still quite new to space travel. Should the mission be successful this coming week, it will open doors for more reusable spacecraft technology, and more missions utilizing Boeing’s engineering.
The Future of Boeing and NASA
The future looks bright for this partnership, which is now set to last until at least 2024. As more and more of us look to a future of space tourism, there’s little doubt that Boeing will play a large role in developing the spacecraft to facilitate this new era. Even now, Boeing is working out means to enable efficient, low-cost and safe travel to both Mars and the Moon, being ahead with their unique innovations and knack for developing technology that’s surprisingly affordable.
In the future, we believe that Boeing will be responsible for several groundbreaking missions that change the way in which we experience space travel and will be responsible for making space travel more accessible than it ever has been before.