Boeing's Starliner is more expensive than Crew Dragon and seems not to offer any significant advantages. Is there still value to NASA or other parties in the future to having a choice between the two?

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    $\begingroup$ I adjusted the wording to avoid close votes for "primarily opinion-based answers". Feel free to edit further. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ "unlike redundancy" kscddms.ksc.nasa.gov/Reliability/Documents/Preferred_Practices/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 2:55
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to @OrganicMarble's "dissimilar redundancy", another advantage of multiple suppliers is that this overcomes the problems associated with a monopoly. Note how Russia charged more and more and more to launch US astronauts to the ISS after the end of the Shuttle program. They could do so in part because the Soyuz was the only game in town. Being the only game in town invites that one game to charge whatever they want and to undergo technical stagnation. It is very much in NASA's interest to have multiple suppliers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ Can you extrapolate on what value you believe there was in Starliner before Crew Dragon's launch and ISS docking? From what I have seen, no one thought that Starliner specifically provided any value. Rather the only value was in (potentially) having a second program to get to space from US soil. $\endgroup$
    – TylerH
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ It sure offers value to Boeing! :-) (Which is nothing to be sneezed at these days.) $\endgroup$
    – TooTea
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 14:46

4 Answers 4


Commercial Crew awarded two providers for dissimilar redundancy.

This is exactly why NASA decided to select two partners in the commercial crew effort. Having dissimilar redundancy is key in NASA’s approach to maintaining a crew and cargo aboard the space station and to keeping our commitments to international partners. It also allows our private industry partners to focus on crew safety rather than schedule. The safety of our commercial crew team always will remain as our top priority.

This is especially important in case SpaceX's Crew Dragon or Russia's Soyuz have an issue. When Soyuz MS-10 had an in-flight abort, NASA's access to space was put in jeopardy. Fortunately, the issue with Soyuz was quickly rectified before the ISS needed to rotate its crew.

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    $\begingroup$ For the same reasons, Airbus uses 3 primary and 2 secondary flight computers, only one of which is needed for safe operation. The secondary flight computers are made by a different manufacturer with a different hardware platform, different CPU architecture from a different manufacturer, different operating system, different programming language, and different compiler than the others. Within each of the five computers, each command is computed twice by two independent channels, again developed in different programming languages by different teams. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ Simlarly, for the same reason, most large airlines fly both Airbus and Boeing airliners. Imagine, if an airline had Boeing B737-MAX as their only airplanes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag whoa, that is really interesting. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, the other way to look at this is that it is a very convenient way for government funding to prop up unviable commercial companies, without the accusation of "socalist economic policies." Arguably, the only reason why GE and P&W have both survived as commercial aircraft engine manufacturers is because of covert subsidy for their military programs where two suppliers are considered better than one. In a truly capitalist world, P&W's civil engine business would have died when the JT-9D stopped being the state of the art.. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag Both South West and Ryanair almost made it to that point... Another few years before the grounding and both airlines would have been destroyed - right now, they both fly legacy 737s alongside their grounded MAX's but a few years from now... $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 22:13

It seems NASA likes having two different options for flying humans in space. That's probably why they still have flights booked from Roskosmos.

Competition is good.

Boeing can probably still engineer the price down.


Space-X has a completely radical design and testing philosophy. NASA can't ignore it, because it produces results very quickly and costs much less than the traditional model. However, NASA also cannot fully commit to an untested paradigm. More generally, it's smart to diversify your portfolio if you don't know enough to pick the winners.

There's also a certain political advantage to any inefficiency that the traditional model produces: it means more jobs for more Americans; and if the design process is slower, it means those jobs are more permanent. Allowing tax-payers to invest in the process (by working for Boeing, e.g., or owning a convenience store near a Boeing factory) makes it easier to justify legislators' continued support for NASA's programs.


It would have had been definitely a value to possess some other human rated rocket while Space Shuttle was grounded or later unavailable. This may happen for any rocket.

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    $\begingroup$ isn't that the same answer as this $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 10:52

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