We might be looking at a 21st Century version of the R100 vs. R101 airship contest of the 1920s. Exciting times!
It's good to see NASA isn't cornering the market on giant rockets with no payloads
BFR has a defined payload (albeit one defined by somewhat vague specifications than actual design) and destination, unlike SLS.
The demand for that payload (or rather the economics of it) are not yet proven. SpaceX might end up building BFR and MCT only to discover that they can't find anybody to pay for actual missions (or perhaps only a handful of missions), even if the costs are substantially lower.
Nice Job Chris. Being as I am hopeless addicted to the Saturn V, its a pity you didn't stick it in the article with a shot of its ultimate version, a towering thing with stretched S1C and SII stages, a 33 foot payload shroud, and 4 260 inch liquid strap ons with 2 F-1s each, for a total of 13(!) F-1s for the vehicle.
We are talking about the biggest rockets to ever be made. Both bigger than the Saturn V. SLS has billions of dollars allocated to it and supporting its development. SpaceX's BFR has how much? They have a good number of Falcons manifested. However those are not free and only a portion of the money made off those will be able to be spent on HLV development. SLS is going to be powered by engines which already exist and have a long history of use. SpaceX is planning on developing the most advanced propulsion system ever made, a full flow stage combustion methane powered monster. Right now SLS hardware is being produced. SpaceX is just starting to do basic testing on their Raptor sub-components. To paraphrase a constant criticism against SLS where are the payloads for SpaceX's rocket? The MTC is not a trivial thing to produce at all. It is possibly going to be even more tricky than the BFR. I wish SpaceX luck as I am sure we all do but to believe their rocket and payload will be ready by the end of the decade seems wishful.
That review [the Augustine Committee] also discussed the Flexible Path approach, which recommended a monster 200 metric ton human rated “Exploration Class” launch vehicle as a future proof rocket.
Great article! One question though - is there a commonly accepted definition for "exploration-class rocket" (or a list of rocket 'classes' in general) or is that just another term for SHLV?