A modern space race has truly begun — if Boeing's harsh jabs against SpaceX count. In February, SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy, which it deemed as the "most powerful operational rocket in the world." Boeing, also working on its own rockets, doesn't quite agree.
It claims the Falcon Heavy failed to impress the spaceflight department at NASA, stressing that spaceflight head Bill Gerstenmaier said the rocket was "too small" for the space agency's needs for deep space exploration.
Boeing vs SpaceX
Boeing recently created a website called "Watch Us Fly" as a way to promote its spaceflight efforts. One notable section is a page that makes bold claims about the company's Space Launch System rocket, which NASA plans on using for future missions.
"The Falcon Heavy launch turned heads in February, but SpaceX's rocket is a smaller type of rocket that can't meet NASA's deep-space needs," reads the page. "Once the Boeing-built SLS is operational, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built."
Boeing supports its own claims by quoting Gerstenmaier, who recently discussed the differences between SpaceX's and Boeing's rockets at a meeting. Gerstenmaier said the SLS had unique capabilities absent on the Falcon Heavy. But when pressed to explain further, Gerstenmaier found it difficult to elaborate why NASA even needed the SLS, seeing as the space agency hasn't built anything that necessitates a rocket that size.
Is Boeing Making Bogus Claims?
"The Boeing-built SLS rocket is the only spaceflight vehicle that can provide NASA the tools it needs for deep space exploration. The SLS can bring equipment into space that is too large for the Falcon Heavy," the website reads.
The page also offers some pretty suspect assertions. For example, it writes about the SLS as if it'll soon be here. But as Ars Technica notes, an operational SLS might not be here until after a couple of years. Moreover, that version of the rocket won't be anywhere close to the "most powerful rocket ever built."
In fact, the decades-old Saturn V is still the most powerful rocket ever built, able to carry up to 118 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. The SLS booster, meanwhile, will only be able to lift 70 tons. The Falcon Heavy, meanwhile, can carry 64 tons.
To be fair, NASA is planning to make an SLS configuration that's able to carry up to 105 tons — but not until the 2020s, and such an undertaking will probably cost billions of dollars. There are also plans to make a configuration that can carry 130 tons, but at this point, that rocket seems notional at best. No concrete plans or a roadmap even exists for this project yet.
One has to wonder what Boeing is trying to do here, as the Watch Us Fly website looks rather juvenile in the way it addresses SpaceX as its competition. It even insults the company by saying "Ouch" after quoting Gerstenmaier.
What do you think is Boeing up to? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!