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That's not quite correct. SLS is still slated to launch June of next year. It may get delayed to 2021 if problems are found. Also, Orion already flown in 2014, and will undergo an abort test in April.

You are right. After poking around for a bit, I found that SLS+Orion can launch without the upper stage. The upper stage allows more to be carried on the launch.

That said, I'm still on the side of betting with history. In most organizations, the deadline is the first date that nobody can (yet) disprove. When a deadline depends on problems not happening on this project that historically have been common, I think it is safe to bet that history will repeat itself.

This goes doubly for the SLS. Which is more ambitious than past launch systems, and is being built so long after the last new launch system was designed by the companies involved that there is little institutional knowledge left about how to do it. (Furthermore building with competing companies contracting for pieces that need to integrate just sounds like a recipe for expensive overruns to me.)

As opposed to the BFR. Which is being designed by a company with more recent experience of how to build new launch systems than the rest of the planet put together.

Most of the structural and integration tests are already complete though. We're far into the "beta testing" phase as it were. Also, the BFR isn't anywhere near the state that the SLS is in right now.

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