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  1. Credit to @Sturgeon for originally coming up with this discussion topic. As I'm sure you're all aware by now, SLS (Space Launch System) is horribly delayed; it was originally supposed to fly a few years ago, but now isn't supposed to launch until 2020. That will be an unmanned launch of the Block 1 version, the Block 2 version (the one that will rival Saturn V) won't be coming until 2029 per wikiped. Also, it makes the odd (and in my opinion poor) choice of going with solid rocket boosters plus hydrolox on the first stage. With that said, SLS does at least make use of existing hardware such as the RL-10 and derivatives of the Shuttle SRBs and RS-25s, and manufacturing has begun on some components. So it's ahead of the complete train wreck that was Constellation. The question is, how can SLS be fixed? There's a bunch of options depending how far back in time you're willing to go and how radical of changes you're going to make. I'm going to start by laying out what I see as the facts of the situation, without changing the architecture of the system: SLS is horribly overbuilt for LEO crewed operations, and F9/Dragon (and even Atlas V / Starliner) is much cheaper and better fits that mission. Plans to man-rate Falcon Heavy are canned for the moment, so besides BFR (which will blow everything open if it does what Musk promises) there are no American man-capable launchers that can send a crewed mission beyond LEO. (I don't know anything about plans to stick a capsule on New Glenn or any other amazon rockets) Therefore, SLS has something of a niche as a crewed beyond LEO launcher (again assuming BFR doesn't pan out) In order to become more economical, SLS must launch more frequently than once every few years. The most likely way to do this is by establishing a permanent presence on the moon. This would require acceleration of the schedule for Block 2 most likely, along with a shitload of money. Still, it should serve as a starting point for the discussion.
  2. Here's to Orion, SLS (both block 1 and definitely not theoretical block 2), and a faint glimmer of hope for missions beyond LEO. Here's to where we should have been in 1980.
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