Boeing accused of stealing trade secrets for NASA's SLS mega-rocket

A lawsuit filed against Boeing claims the company misused its technology, causing 'critical' safety risks.
Chris Young
NASA's Space Launch System.
NASA's Space Launch System.

NASA / Joel Kowsky 

Colorado-based company Wilson Aerospace has filed a lawsuit against Boeing in which it accuses the aerospace giant of stealing trade secrets, a report from Reuters reveals.

In the lawsuit filing, Wilson Aerospace claims that Boeing stole intellectual property after the two firms parted ways, both having worked together on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), which took to the skies for the first time in November last year.

Wilson Aerospace also accused Boeing of misusing its intellectual property and building components with "critical" safety flaws that could put future astronauts in danger.

Boeing accused of stealing intellectual property for NASA SLS components

In its lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court, Wilson Aerospace explains that it worked with Boeing from 2014 to 2016. Boeing contracted the company to help it safely attach engines to NASA's SLS rocket.

Boeing allegedly canceled Wilson's contract but continued to use its intellectual property without seeking "full instructions" on properly building and installing its system.

The intellectual property in question is the Fluid Fitting Torque Device-3 tool, which Wilson says Boeing needed to attach the four main RS-25 engines to the SLS rocket's large core stage. Boeing allegedly produced versions of Wilson's tools that were "critically deficient in quality and performance."

Wilson Aerospace claims that Boeing turned to its solution to retain the billions of dollars in revenue from NASA's SLS contract. "Boeing has captured billions of dollars in revenue because of the infringement of Wilson's trade secrets." The company wants Boeing to turn over "all revenues and profits [it] has obtained as a result."

Wilson Aerospace, a family-run company comprised of founder David Wilson, his son, and his wife, is also seeking triple damages.

Boeing will "vigorously defend" itself against lawsuit "inaccuracies"

In a statement, Boeing claimed that the "lawsuit is rife with inaccuracies and omissions," adding that it will "vigorously defend against this in court."

Wilson Aerospace has requested a jury trial. If the case does go to court, it could be of great public interest, as Wilson claims "Boeing’s mismatched tools of inferior quality were a cause of the leaks experienced in the SLS projects, and likely caused leaks in equipment of Boeing’s joint venture partners and licensees, which discovery will uncover."

The SLS rocket performed well during its debut launch for the uncrewed Artemis I mission in November last year. However, the rocket program has been criticized for going wildly over budget amid a string of delays. In an interview with IE last year, for example, former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver claimed the SLS program is "not progress".

The SLS rocket is the most powerful operational rocket, though it may soon be overtaken by SpaceX's reusable Starship launch system. It was designed to send astronauts back to the Moon, starting with next year's Artemis II mission, currently scheduled for November 2024.

The rocket will also launch astronauts for the Artemis III mission in 2025 or 2026. That crew will transfer to a modified Starship lunar lander before becoming the first humans to land on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972.

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