NASA's Orion Lifeboat Makes Waves for Boeing's Commercial Spaceship Plan
Orion test module.
Credit: Dryden Flight Research Center

WASHINGTON ? Boeing is willing to build a crew capsule for NASA on a commercial fixed-price basis but is troubled by the agency?s plans to continue funding development of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle to serve as a space station lifeboat, according to a Boeing executive.

"With the recent announcement of a crew rescue vehicle as part of Orion, we do now recognize that we would have a cost-plus, government-funded capsule competing against a commercially fixed-price capsule," Jayne Schnaars, Boeing?s vice president of business development for space exploration, said during a presentation at the Women in Aerospace conference here May 18. "So we?re working with NASA to say, 'We want this business, we know we can do it, help us.'"

After announcing in February that Orion and the rest of the Constellation program would be canceled in favor of outsourcing routine crew transportation to commercial operators, the White House decided in April to have NASA fund completion of a stripped-down Orion capsule that would launch to the international space station unmanned to serve as an escape craft.

Lockheed Martin, which beat Boeing and its teammate Northrop Grumman in 2006 for an Orion prime contract worth an initial $3.9 billion, welcomed the news as a partial reprieve for the project. But to Boeing, continued NASA funding of an Orion capsule that would need only a launch abort system to start launching crews would add substantial risk to a business case Schnaars said will be a struggle to close.

"No matter how many folks say, 'I can build this, I can launch it, it?s going to work,' we have to make sure it makes business sense, and right now there?s significant challenges there," she said.