Boeing’s attempt to win space race jettisoned by infighting

Boeing’s attempt to win the space race has descended into infighting as it fails to keep up with rival Elon Musk.

The US manufacturer is locked in a fight with a key supplier over faulty fuel valves in its Starliner spacecraft, a vehicle designed to take astronauts to the International Space Station which it hopes will relaunch its space aspirations.

Boeing and the supplier, California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, are both blaming each other over the fault, which threatens the aerospace giant’s plans to relaunch itself as a serious space contender, according to Reuters.

Boeing said it is “working on short and long-term design changes to the valves”, and claimed Aerojet did not make the valves resilient enough to withstand the necessary chemical reactions in launching a rocket.

It comes as Aerojet also tackles an internal boardroom scuffle. In a message to shareholders, chairman Warren Lichtenstein publicly accused chief executive Eileen Drake of being a “rogue” leader and of lacking “any real vision for the future of the company”.

His comments are part of a wider fight for control of the company following a failed $4.4bn (£3.6bn) bid by US defense firm Lockheed Martin, which was blocked by regulators.

Ms Drake has branded previous allegations from Mr Lichtenstein as “baseless personal attacks.”

As the space race heats up, Boeing is hoping to demonstrate its credibility as a contractor to NASA, and a safe rival to Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer, SpaceX. The space agency has a $24bn budget for 2022, by far the largest for any country in the world.

Boeing has planned an unmanned test flight on May 19 to test its CST-100 Starliner capsule. The program has cost Boeing $595m more than originally planned, potentially eroding profits as Nasa will only offer fixed pricing to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

In a major setback, the capsule failed to dock at the space station in 2019 amid software problems. The incident led to NASA spending more time overseeing SpaceX proposals.

Aerojet did not respond to requests for comment.

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