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What is the cost to NASA per launch to ISS of Starliner vs Crew Dragon? The Crew Dragon flights uses the SpaceX Falcon 9-FT with the first stage reusable, along with the partially reusable Crew Dragon.

The Starliner will use the Atlas-V. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_Starliner "Following Starliner-1, NASA has contracted Boeing for at least five more operational flights to the ISS".

What is the cost to NASA of the Starliner launches vs the Crew Dragon launches? Is NASA contractually obligated to keep paying while the Starliner's schedule gets increasingly delayed, or can NASA decide to switch over the the Dragon exclusively?

Also, the Starliner is using the Atlas-V which is end of life. "The Boeing-Lockheed joint venture will retire its stalwart rocket after 29 more missions" https://www.theverge.com/2021/8/26/22641048/ula-boeing-lockheed-end-sales-atlas-v-rocket-russia-rd180 Will the Starliner be retired, or switch to using the Vulcan/Centaur?

I realize that in some sense the relative cost doesn't matter because NASA's goals include making sure there are reliable rockets for getting the required payloads and manned rockets into space, and for a long time, USA didn't have any alternatives for manned spaceflights after the Shuttle was retired.

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What is the cost to NASA per launch to ISS of Starliner vs Crew Dragon?

According to a 2019 report by NASA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the launch costs are (in million\$):

Vehicle cost per astronaut cost per launch
SpaceX Crew Dragon 55 209
Soyuz MS 86
Boeing CST-100 Starliner 90 345

So, out of the three vehicles currently being used to bring NASA astronauts to the ISS, Crew Dragon is the cheapest and Starliner the most expensive, but not significantly more so than Soyuz. (Note that it is believed that the Soyuz prices are inflated because Roskosmos knew full well that NASA had no choice than to pay literally any price.)

Note that both Boeing and NASA have objected to the NASA OIG report, saying that the calculations for Boeing do not take into account the fact that Starliner has more cargo upmass than Crew Dragon and thus can launch the equivalent of a fifth astronaut in cargo to the station. (However, note that even 345/5 is still 69, higher than Crew Dragon.)

Is NASA contractually obligated to keep paying while the Starliner's schedule gets increasingly delayed, or can NASA decide to switch over the the Dragon exclusively?

Whether they can or can't ditch Boeing is irrelevant: they won't. The whole point of awarding two contracts is dissimilar redundancy. NASA wants two completely independent launch providers launching crew on independent capsules using independent launchers. No-one except Boeing is currently close. (Although industry insiders assume that Sierra Nevada Corporation will try to get back into the game with a crew-rated Dream Chaser at some point – they were in the competition after all, and they have scored a CRS contract, so once they have demonstrated safe launch, return, and docking with cargo, it will be easier to get a crew certification.)

They do the same thing with Commercial Resupply Services (SpaceX Cargo Dragon, Northrup Grumman Space Systems Cygnus, and Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser) and they try to do the same thing with the Lunar Human Landing System (they wanted to award two contracts, but Congress only gave them enough funding for half of the cheapest bidder – SpaceX).

It is not clear whether NASA is obligated to pay anything to Boeing while they are not launching. However, it is in their interest to do so and to make sure Starliner does come online sooner rather than later.

Also, the Starliner is using the Atlas-V which is end of life. […] Will the Starliner be retired, or switch to using the Vulcan/Centaur?

This has apparently changed a couple of times. In 2015, ULA has still said that they expect Vulcan to be crew-rated from the start and that crew-rating it will be easy.

However, more recently, ULA has said that Boeing does not plan to certify Starliner for Vulcan.

ULA still has enough Atlas V N22 (or rather RD-180s, since that is the limiting factor) to support Starliner until 2028. What happens then? Who knows. Maybe Starliner will move to New Glenn: what's the point in paying a fortune to ULA when you can have a crew-rated cheaper reusable rocket with the same engines?

The idea of launching Starliner on Falcon 9 has been floated a couple of times on social media, but even ignoring the potential political awkwardness, this would also run afoul of NASA's whole reason to award two contracts in the first place: dissimilar redundancy. In this hypothetical scenario, any problem with Falcon 9 would cut NASA off from the ISS completely, unless they book seats on Soyuz. Which not only is expensive, but also limits the US Operating Segment again to only one crew member, which is not even enough to "keep the lights on", let alone perform any upgrades or research.

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    $\begingroup$ About "is NASA obligated to pay Boeing" - as far as I know the payments are "milestone based". So the development plan of Starliner has milestones, achievements to reach, and the reaching of every milestone results in a fixed payment. If Boeing has no progress, NASA doesn't pay. $\endgroup$
    – Heopps
    Sep 20 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously cost to NASA is price to SpaceX. What the cost is to SpaceX is not publicly known with any clarity. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Sep 20 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ "what's the point in paying a fortune to ULA when you can have a crew-rated cheaper reusable rocket with the same engines?" - Are you accounting for the fact that Boeing owns 50% of ULA here? I'm not saying Boeing won't pick Blue Origin over ULA, but this line makes it sound like Boeing has no stake whatsoever in ULA. $\endgroup$
    – 8bittree
    Sep 20 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @8bittree: I'm willing to bet that even with the "employee discount" it is cheaper to reuse a rocket than to trash it. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ In other words: capabilities that NASA is not using are irrelevant when assessing the launch cost to NASA. $\endgroup$ Sep 21 at 5:32

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