NASA suggests retirement of SLS when BFR and New Glenn fly

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Capitalism in space: During an interview at a November 1st conference, a NASA official mentioned that if SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn begin flying successfully the agency will seriously consider retiring SLS.

“I think our view is that if those commercial capabilities come online, we will eventually retire the government system, and just move to a buying launch capacity on those [rockets],” Stephen Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator, told Business Insider at The Economist Space Summit on November 1.

However, NASA may soon find itself in a strange position, since the two private launch systems may beat SLS back to the moon – and one might be the first to send people to Mars.

I have been saying that this should happen since almost the first day this website was started in 2011. To quote from a September 14, 2011 post:

To be really blunt, this new rocket, like all its predecessors, will never fly either. It costs too much, will take too long to build, and will certainly be canceled by a future administration before it is finished. It is therefore a complete waste of money, and any Congress that approves it will demonstrate how utterly insincere they are about controlling spending.

It appears that I was wrong with this prediction on one count. SLS might actually fly a few times, but only to allow its supporters in Congress and NASA to justify that support. When the private rockets come on line in the early 2020s, cheaper, faster, and better designed (with re-usability), NASA and Congress will then finally say that these rockets are better and that SLS will die, and they will also both make believe they were saying that from the very beginning.



  • brightdark

    Sen Shelby will have legislation that will forbid NASA, probably the government in general, from using non-SLS rockets. Does it make any sense? Of course not but the contractors and the like must be kept satisfied.

  • Tom Billings

    NASA, to my knowledge, has no “up or out” policy, which is very good for Stephen Jurczyk, NASA’s associate administrator. Because Mr. Jurczyk is *not* going to be promoted, at least not to any position requiring Senate confirmation, and will be under some pressure to resign after being so realistic. I hope his resume is well laid out and New Space companies willing to consider it positively after today. Space Manufacturing companies will be getting far cheaper rides to orbit, and will have a use for realistic managers willing and able to have their facilities ride the Big Falcon Spaceship.

  • That’s still billions (with a ‘B’) of dollars completely wasted in terms of value received. A lot of people and organizations made careers off SLS, but I don’t know that the people paying the bills have, or will, receive anything like a reasonable benefit from the expenditure. Heads should roll, up to and including termination of NASA’s manned flight program.

  • Edward

    Article headline: “NASA will retire its new mega-rocket if SpaceX or Blue Origin can safely launch its own powerful rockets

    I love it! SLS is the very expensive backup rocket. What a cluster-bleep*.

    From the article:

    “Right now we see the way to [get to some kind of super-heavy-lift capability, and as quickly as possible] is through SLS, because we kind of have the head-start and use these legacy technologies and systems,” he said, referring to the fact that SLS will use space shuttle engines and other well-understood hardware.

    The government’s heritage “well-understood hardware” is far more expensive than the NewSpace industry’s development of the state of the art hardware? Jurczyk needs to make less embarrassing statements.


    What has become of the once-great NASA?

    Oh, that’s right. Congress stopped using the manned program as a scientific and technological tool that pushes the technological envelope and uses it now as a jobs program using safe, heritage, well-understood hardware.

    Instead, it is free market American companies that are doing the innovation, pushing that envelope, and accomplishing the formerly impossible.

    * Rough definition from the movie Heartbreak ridge: “Marines are fighting men, sir. They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry asses filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.” Astronauts are explorers who should already have the equipment that they need. NASA knew that the Space Shuttle would need replacement some day, but they and Congress failed to provide for that replacement in a timely manner.

    On the up side, that cluster bleep practically forced the solution to be commercially-run manned space operations rather than government-run manned space.

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