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SpaceX will be raising its eyes to the sky more than usual tonight. In fact, Boeing is about to perform the second orbital test OFT.

Sometimes, the most important thing to know if your business will continue to operate is not so much the innovation you bring, but the actions (or inaction) of the competition. In this area, SpaceX is a model of its kind. Licensed since 2020 to carry out manned missions to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA, Elon Musk’s company has already succeeded 7 times thanks to the Crew Dragon capsule, but the bad news, SpaceX’s monopoly may end tonight.

NASA wants two different capsules to go to the International Space Station

In fact, when NASA works with private companies, it always tries to have two companies that are able to provide the same service. This avoids putting all the eggs in one basket, so if one of the capsules has a problem, no one is off. This was the case in the call for bids for the lunar lander (HLS), but due to lack of budget, Blue Origin was rejected.

But this NASA strategy also applies to manned flights to the International Space Station. The US space agency has always encouraged competition and continues to do so by proposing to Boeing to get into the dance. So the company, famous for its aircraft, began building a capsule capable of joining the International Space Station and transporting astronauts to it.

Si le projet a été lancé en 2019, tout comme celui de SpaceX, Boeing a eu toutes les peines du monde pour réaliser ses OFT (Orbital Flight Test) des vols de configuration et de vérification demandsés par la NASA pour s’assurer que tout aille Hassan. And in the case of Boeing, the least we can say is that nothing was going right.

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First failure in December 2019

During the company’s first OFT operation, the capsule’s internal clock was defective, causing the thrusters to speed up and empty the fuel tanks, before the missile could be on track. It ran out of power, was unable to reach the International Space Station and fell again two days later, passed near its service module and crashed spectacularly.

So this first flight was a huge failure for Boeing, since SpaceX simultaneously received congratulations from NASA, and a first contract with the International Space Station. But after a long internal investigation, lasting more than a year, NASA allowed Boeing to try its luck again, in August 2021. The OFT-1 had to be proven to be just a simple bug, and NASA could count on its Starliner arriving at the International Space Station , as it was already doing at the time with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

But again, Boeing failed. Blame a problem with the rocket booster valves. Hence the second failure of Boeing in many attempts. After days of doubts, the Starliner returns to the factory to be modified and improved. Finally, it took until May 20, 2022 for the Boeing capsule to recover on the launch pad.

Boeing: Is it not two without three?

This time is the right time, Boeing assures us. Fineness looks like a facade only, the problem of the thruster valves has not been completely resolved. Whatever the case, tonight, around midnight French time, an Atlas V rocket, with a Starliner capsule at its top, should blast off on a mission that will cost Boeing $590 million.

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It’s already having trouble in the air with the 737 Max, so Boeing could lose half a billion dollars in the process if the flight goes wrong, for the third time in as many attempts.

On the SpaceX side, this mission is clearly being followed closely. If Elon Musk isn’t expected to pull out his phone to tweet his congratulations to Boeing, he’ll inevitably watch the competition—he’s the one who risks sharing NASA’s highly lucrative contract with other companies in the future.

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