Everybody was shocked when the news of SLS being chosen as a Lunar lander alongside SpaceX and other commercial launchers was known. SpaceX and NASA completely disagree in terms of their approach towards launch vehicle development, as seen in their highly contrasting tests performed in early December. Are there more similarities than differences between SLS and Starship? SLS vs Starship - Which of the two is more powerful? Let's find out.
On December 9, SpaceX's Starship SN8 prototype soared up the Texas sky with the vehicle flowing more than a couple of hundred meters upwards for the first time. The launch was greeted with praises and named as no less than a success even though the spaceship exploded while descending back to the pad. NASA, too, started a test for SLS only to put a stop on it immediately due to the liquid oxygen's varying temperatures while flowing across the tank. If we observe both the events closely, we can clearly see the differences in its approach. While NASA is prudently watchful, SpaceX is fast and sometimes, reckless.
If there had to be a comparison chart between the two, the obvious parameter to judge them upon would be the cost. SLS is far more expensive to build, with at least $2 Bn to put aside per launch. On the other hand, Starship is drastically cheaper with a cost of a minimum $5 Mn and should be fully recoverable and reusable.
While it's tempting to roll eyes at SLS, it is true that the tolerance for risk is very different for an over-budget government-controlled program with that of a one-man army private program. Furthermore, one must keep in mind that the SLS and Starship are used to serving two different scenarios. Although Starship has been designed as a deep-space spacecraft, it is mainly designed as a heavy-lift launcher for in-orbit duel transfers and to carry payloads to the Moon. On the other hand, the SLS rocket is envisioned to be a part of NASA's Artemis moon program to return their astronauts to the moon by 2024. In other news, SpaceX's latest Starship prototype could fly as early as this Sunday after their successful 41,000 feet high-altitude test.