SpaceX's next-generation launch system, previously known as the Big Falcon Rocket, has a new name: Starship and Super Heavy.
Company CEO Elon Musk announced the changes via Twitter late Monday night and clarified that Starship applies to the crewed spacecraft, while Super Heavy refers to the reusable booster that launches it from the pad, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"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)," Musk said.
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) November 20, 2018
The vehicle, like most modern rockets, is a two-stage system: The first stage's purpose is to launch Starship, which is being developed to take dozens of passengers beyond low-Earth orbit to destinations such as the moon and, someday, Mars. A Japanese billionaire has already committed to a substantial investment in SpaceX in return for a no-earlier-than-2023 slingshot around the moon with several artists.
Starship features a three-fin design that flanks the rear engines – two of those serve an aerodynamic purpose and are actuated, but the third only contributes as a vertical landing leg. Musk said he enjoys the spaceship's overall aesthetics, and the third leg matches the first two in design for that reason.
"Overall, I think it looks beautiful," Musk said in September. "I love the Tintin rocket design, so I kind of wanted to bias it towards that."
After liftoff, the massive first stage is expected to return for a landing and reuse, much like current Falcon 9 rockets.
The launch system has seen several different names to date, including the Interplanetary Transport System and BFR. Since the ITS announcement in 2016, however, the size and scope of the vehicle has become more narrow and feasible for the company that will need billions to take it beyond orbit.
Initially targeted for direct flights to Mars, SpaceX is now expected to start with lunar missions before moving onto the red planet and Musk's ultimate vision: The establishment of a self-sustaining colony there.
Components of Starship and Super Heavy are currently being manufactured in a SpaceX facility at the Port of Los Angeles.
Back on Earth, meanwhile, the company still has four planned launches for the year.
- TBD: Originally slated for Nov. 19, SpaceX's next flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, known as SSO-A, will launch dozens of satellites on the first-ever mission featuring a previously twice-flown booster.
- Dec. 4: A previously flown Falcon 9 will launch on the company's 16th Commercial Resupply Services Mission from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station with thousands of pounds of food, supplies and science experiments.
- Dec. 18: A Falcon 9 rocket will launch SpaceX's first-ever Global Positioning System, or GPS III, mission for the Air Force from Cape Canaveral.
- Late December: Falcon 9 will launch from Vandenberg with 10 more satellites for Iridium's constellation of NEXT satellites.