Scientific American Asked – NASA is spending billions of dollars developing its own heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, as the centerpiece for future exploration activities beyond low Earth orbit. But private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are pursuing more reusable heavy-lift vehicles of their own that may be less expensive to build and operate. Is there room for public-private partnership there, and what might that look like?
Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers. There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn’t hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more “commercial” than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be.