Thursday, June 8, 2023

Small Space News Story Roundup 10

Boeing sued over alleged theft of SLS rocket tools IP

Where IP is the common abbreviation for intellectual property which could be a design approach for a specialized tool as well as the more commonly considered software algorithm or source code.   

On Tuesday, Colorado-based Wilson Aerospace sued Boeing in US District Court in Seattle, alleging theft of the IP behind a very specific tool.  

The lawsuit alleges that Boeing reached out to Wilson in March 2014 after learning that the company had created the special torque device, which can precisely install high-torque fittings and nuts in tightly confined spaces.

The engine section at the bottom of the Space Launch System rocket, where four RS-25 engines are mated to the large core stage with its propellant and oxidizer tanks, is one such tight space.

Boeing, of course, is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage.  The lawsuit states, "Without the engines installed and fitted perfectly, the rocket could not launch.  This was an existential threat to the entire SLS project and especially to Boeing’s continued involvement in the lucrative project. Boeing had not yet figured out a way to attach all the components because the tight, confined spaces at the 'boat tail' of the rocket did not permit the use of Boeing’s existing tools; nor did any other tools calibrate the torque needed with the extreme precision required by NASA for the SLS program." 

Wilson alleges that Boeing had their representatives do a live demonstration of the torque tool to a team of Boeing employees, allowing them to see the tool and how it works, but in reality the crowd wasn't actually all Boeing employees.  

"Wilson later learned that at least seven of those in attendance for the live presentation were external to Boeing and were, at the time, employees of Wilson’s direct competitors," the lawsuit states. "This fact was concealed from Wilson who was deceived by Boeing and the 'Bogus Boeing Employees' into giving the presentation by falsely suggesting to Wilson that everyone was a Boeing employee."

Of course, Boeing is denying all wrongdoing.  Interestingly, the lawsuit also alleges that these competitors produced an inferior design, which was one of the reasons for the recurrent fuel leaks and issues with liquid hydrogen that plagued the Artemis I mission.  It wasn't that NASA forgot how to handle liquid hydrogen it's that the tool was a poor copy. 

Firefly Aerospace acquires a space tug provider

Firefly announced today that it has acquired Spaceflight Inc., adding satellite transportation services to its portfolio of launch vehicles and spacecraft with Spaceflight's Sherpa space tugs. 

Space Tug is the name given to the line of small upper stages that can allow a small payload launch vehicle to get satellites to an otherwise unobtainable orbit. For example Rocket Lab used a space tug of their own to get the CAPSTONE satellite to it's Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit - the first satellite to achieve that previously only theoretical orbit, and is basing getting its probe to Venus on the same tug.  

In a statement announcing the acquisition, Firefly said acquiring Spaceflight would help it offer “end-to-end” space transportation services, which includes the Alpha launch vehicle, Blue Ghost lunar lander and Space Utility Vehicle transfer vehicle.

Firefly plans to keep Spaceflight's Bellevue, Washington payload processing facility, using it to manufacture orbital transfer vehicles.  The approximately 90 Spaceflight Inc. employees become Firefly Aerospace employees, and all the usual stuff many of us have lived through.  

Spaceflight Inc. had provided smallsat launch services and developed a line of tugs called Sherpa, pictured here. Credit: Spaceflight, Inc. 




  1. Why does nothing surprise me about Boeing anymore? They're so bad I'd trust Airbus over a Boeing product.

    And intellectual theft? That should be easy to prove.

  2. So, Boeing is stupid and (allegedly) corrupt? Nice look.

  3. Well, there goes Spaceflight's reputation. The bean counters at Boeing will manage to muck them up.