Elon Musk Unexpectedly Renamed the Big Falcon Rocket 'Starship'

New name, but pretty much the same rocket.

spacex bfr artist rendering
SpaceX

The Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is no more. On Monday night, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unexpectedly announced a name change for his company's future rocket system: Starship.

As is his wont, he took to Twitter to spread the news:

Renaming BFR to Starship

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Technically, two parts: Starship is the spaceship/upper stage & Super Heavy is the rocket booster needed to escape Earth’s deep gravity well (not needed for other planets or moons)

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

It's hard to say what, if anything, prompted the change. Per Musk's brief Twitter rundown, Starship will be comprised of two parts: The spaceship and upper stage will be known as Starship, and the rocket booster stage called Super Heavy.

Previously, Starship was comprised of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and the Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), in the acronym-heavy parlance typical of spaceflight. This is perhaps too common for Musk, who is known to place a premium on aesthetics and pun-heavy marketing.

The goal of the Starship program is to replace all of SpaceX's current rocketry, like its flagship reusable vessel, the Falcon 9. With a planned payload capacity of over 220,000 pounds and the size to take 100 people on a spacefaring journey, Musk sees the Starship as a crucial part of SpaceX's long-term goal of making humanity an interplanetary species.

The company's goal is to have the Starship rocket system operational by 2020, meaning next year will be full of crucially important tests for SpaceX. The company is starting trial runs in 2019, upgrading a Falcon 9 into a mini-Starship to test the mothership's performance in space. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell has also that there will be short, unmanned Starship "hops" around the planet.

The name change could also hint at a possible challenge for Musk: One Twitter user pointed out to Musk that in order to qualify as a "starship," the rocket system should have the ability to actually reach another star system.

Musk responded that "later versions" of Starship will be able to travel those distances:

Later versions will

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

The nearest star to Earth besides the sun is Alpha Centauri, away.

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