SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (or something a little more F-bomb heavy depending on how the mood takes Elon Musk) is dead. Long live “Starship.” SpaceX founder Musk unveiled the name change on Twitter this week, with a message reading simply: “Renaming BFR to Starship.” In a follow-up, he explained that, technically, Starship actually consists of two parts: The Starship upper stage spaceship and Super Heavy, the rocket booster needed to escape Earth’s deep gravity well.
No reason was given for the change, although its new Star Trek-style moniker perhaps speaks to the ambition of the project. After announcing the change, a Musk follower chipped in to observe that, “unless this starship is sent on a mission to another star system it can’t be called a starship.” Without skipping a beat (or is that a tweet?), Musk responded that, “Later versions will.” Given that our nearest star system is the Alpha Centauri system, approximately 4.3 light years — or 25.8 trillion miles — from Earth, that’s quite an optimistic suggestion. Unless he’s trolling us all, that is.
Designed with the goal of taking astronauts to Mars, the erstwhile BFR promises to be the most powerful launcher ever built. It will carry around 100 people on each journey. While not built yet, the 350-foot rocket will reportedly boast a gigantic 10.8 million pounds of thrust, making it the equivalent of 10 times the thrust generated by the Falcon 9 rockets that SpaceX regularly uses for its launches. Just like all SpaceX’s other rockets, it is designed to be reusable.
At present, SpaceX reportedly plans to test early prototypes of Starship in the atmosphere as soon as next year. Provided that these go well, it is then hoping for an orbital test in 2020, prior to a potential Mars flight as soon as 2022.
Whether SpaceX is able to stick to that schedule remains to be seen, of course. Over the weekend, Musk noted that Starship is also being redesigned. The new version of the revolutionary rocket, he says, is “very exciting [and] delightfully counter-intuitive.”
Hey, it wouldn’t be an Elon Musk project if it was dull and done by the books, now, would it?