Yeah but, no, but... 'Overpaid' Boeing snaps back at NASA's watchdog

Also: India admits Vikram had 'hard landing', 'nauts continue ISS repair job, and more

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Roundup The Arianespace launch may have been delayed, but there remained plenty to bring delight to the hearts of rocket fans last week as Starliner neared launch and Boeing bit back at NASA.

Boeing's Starliner has been mated to an Atlas V

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule took another step toward space last week as the spacecraft was wheeled out of Boeing's Florida Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility and hoisted up to the top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket ahead of a fight test to the International Space Station (ISS).

The milestone follows a swipe from NASA's Office of Inspector General, criticising the aviation giant for schedule slips, big bills and questioning if either Boeing or SpaceX would be ready to send crew to the ISS before the middle of 2020.

Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, shared a video of the capsule being lifted at Space Launch Complex (SLC) 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The uncrewed test, which is the first time the CST-100 will head to orbit, is part of the certification process aimed at giving NASA a route to send astronauts to the ISS that doesn't involve showering the Russian space agency with cash. Rival SpaceX has already sent its Crew Dragon up to the ISS.

The Starliner has been beset by problems during its development, most recently a parachute system that didn't work as designed during an abort test. The result has been rolling delays and gap in US human spaceflight capability of almost nine years (and counting).

Should the 17 December launch go off without a hitch, that gap will finally be closed at some point in 2020.

Oh N-OIG you don't...

While few would pretend that Boeing's CST-100 Starliner has not suffered some impressive delays, the main contractor for the core stage of NASA's SLS hit back at some pretty direct criticism of the programme last week.

In response to the report stating that NASA had overpaid its beloved contractor, Boeing retorted that it had cut lead time to launch and doubled the launch rate. It also pointed out that the average seat pricing of $90m did not take into account the equivalent of a fifth passenger.

Not that Boeing would actually disclose how much those seats would really cost, citing "proprietary, competitive reasons". So we'll just have to trust the kindly old corporation on that one.

Unfavourable comparisons have also been made between Boeing and the apparently cheaper and further-along SpaceX. On that point, Boeing whinged that SpaceX already had a cargo vehicle flying, which had been funded by NASA. Basing Crew Dragon on the Dragon freighter made things simpler and, heck, Boeing had started work later too.

Uh-huh. As a reminder, Boeing is the main contractor for NASA's SLS core stage as well as having been selected as NASA's prime contractor for the ISS. The Space Shuttle orbiter was also a Boeing programme (after the company snapped up Rockwell International's aerospace and defence assets) and, lest we forget, North American Rockwell (also now part of Boeing) was responsible for the design and construction of the Apollo Command and Service Modules.

But hey – SpaceX had the unfair advantage of, er, pretty much not existing until 2002.

Two down, two to go – 'naut's take a hacksaw to AMS

ESA's Luca Parmitano and NASA's Andrew Morgan took a six-hour trip outside the ISS last week to continue ambitious repairs on the station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

The duo had already performed a preparatory spacewalk, but this one represented the point of no return and required the 'nauts to cut through eight stainless steel tubes, including one that vented carbon dioxide from the old cooling pump.

The repair job is ambitious and not something that had been planned for when the AMS was designed. However, with failing hardware potentially limiting the instrument's usefulness and the lifespan of the ISS looking likely to be extended beyond 2024, engineers reckoned trying to fit a new cooling system was worth the effort.

Parmitano and Morgan have a short break ahead of them before they must venture out again to install a new thermal control system on the side of the AMS on 2 December. A fourth spacewalk will then be performed in order to conduct leak checks.

Remember India's Lunar Lander?

While India's Chandrayaan-2 has continued orbiting the Moon, the country's space agency, ISRO, has been less than forthcoming with information on what actually happened to the Vikram lander, which was supposed to have conducted science from the lunar surface.

It looks like answer has come, months after the apparent failure of that part of the mission.

Indian media last week reported a written answer by Jitendra Singh, minister of state for the Department of Space, to the effect that Vikram had "hard landed".

While ISRO is apparently still working on a final report, Singh wrote: "During the second phase of descent, the reduction in velocity was more than the designed value." The result was that things were not to the lander's liking at the start of the final phase of descent and Vikram went splat hard-landed within 500 metres of the planned site.

Singh acknowledged that for Vikram, that velocity was "beyond its survivability" but did not elaborate on what caused the borked second phase.

At the time of the landing, ISRO's media orifices only made reference to a loss of communications rather than an out-and-out failure. There has since been precious little said with regard to the fate of Vikram and its rover despite the trumpeting over the success of the Chandrayaan-2, which recently had its mission life extended to seven years. ®


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