There are names for the class or family of launcher, e.g. Delta IV, Electron, Falcon.

Sometimes the launcher is "named" for a specific configuration of a class, e.g. "Delta IV Medium+ (4,2)", "Chang Zheng-3B/G2".

Sometimes the launcher can be referred to by a combination of class name and instance number, e.g. Electron 8.

The name of the mission is sometimes used as the name of the launcher, e.g. "Look Ma, No Hands", "Global Positioning System III SV02".

If a launcher were a marine vessel, it would have a name, like Ever Golden or Al Muraykh.

So why aren't launchers given their own names and to whom can I speak about rectifying this situation?

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    $\begingroup$ You're probably going to use the marine vessel more than once. The vast majority of launchers aren't going to survive their maiden flight intact. $\endgroup$ – notovny Aug 22 '19 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ If launcher companies were anything like me, all their launches would be named Untitled space craft (11) and the like. $\endgroup$ – Ingolifs Aug 22 '19 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ Not all marine vessels have a name e.g. JFK;s PT-109 basically as there a lot all the same $\endgroup$ – mmmmmm Aug 23 '19 at 11:01

I'm not entirely convinced by the "expendable" argument of the other answers. Let's look at the reasons why you would want to give a name to a craft:

  1. When you need to distinguish between more than one vehicle. Any mission with more than one spacecraft (e.g. rendezvous) will need an easy-to-use way to distinguish between the two vehicles. Sure, you can use numbers like Gemini did, but humans are better at comprehending names than numbers. That's why the Apollo CSM and LM each had distinct names.

    Launcher stages are given a serial number during manufacturing, because at that time there are multiple copies which you need to distinguish. But once they become part of a launch stack, it's all one vehicle. After separation, you now have two vehicles, but there is little interaction with the launch stage after that, so calling it "the __th stage" is good enough.

  2. Radios have call signs. This is a special case of #1. Because radio communication is a shared medium, you need a way to address to whom you wish to speak. This is more of an issue for terrestrial radios, naval-craft, and air-craft, but the practice has been brought over to space-craft. So Eagle wasn't simply the name of the Apollo 11 lunar module, it was also the call sign for the radio on that spacecraft.

  3. Crews have an emotional attachment to their vessels. Before there were space-craft, there were naval-craft and air-craft. The vessel is the crew's home and haven. They become emotionally attached to it, and want to give it a name. This tradition is nearly as old as recorded history (e.g. Jason and the Argo).

None of the above apply to launch stages, hence there is no need to give them names.

Also, it's a lot easier to come up with a serial number or call it "the __th stage" than to invent (and get approval of) a name.


Probably the same reason small-holders often don't name their pigs.

"The spent lower stage of the ShinyRocket(tm) for project-put-thing-in-sky was jettisoned over the Pacific."

Sounds better than if you'd given that same piece of hardware a name.

This in keeping with the observation that the bits that weren't expected to meet a fiery end shortly after doing their task did sometimes get names. The Apollo LMs and CSMs had names for example.

There also isn't the same need to as there is for marine vessels. At least until recently, you didn't have to remember that this was the booster that flew that other mission as they only flew once. There are exceptions to this of course, but again, the space shuttles had names.

  • $\begingroup$ I think your counterexamples offer the reason why they break the general rule. The LMs and CMs carried crew. Note that neither the descent stage of the LM, nor the SM, had a name. Arguably, it was just the CM and LM ascent stages that had those names -- Eagle docked with Columbia, despite the descent stage having been left on the lunar surface, and Apollo 13's crew referred to the CM as "Odyssey" even after the failed SM was jettisoned, and Aquarius' descent stage engine was providing the power to get them home. $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder Aug 22 '19 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Some unmanned craft get names too (e.g. the ES ATV and Orbital Cygnus craft all got names). $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Aug 22 '19 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyHarder: Was the name Eagle not attached to the landing stage which still exists as a monument to mankind's first excursion to an extra-terrestrial body? $\endgroup$ – supercat Aug 22 '19 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @supercat The ascent stage used the call sign Eagle after leaving the moon; it's where the people and the controls and the computers were, so it's arguably where the name lives. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 22 '19 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyHarder The CSMs of Apollo 7 and 8 didn't have individual names other than "Apollo 7" and "Apollo 8", because they were alone on the radio. The later missions got individual names to distinguish the two crewed spacecraft operating at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 22 '19 at 23:32

ANone is correct that launchers traditionally haven’t gotten names because they’re expendable; it’s a shame to give a perfectly good name to a rocket that’s going to be in use for less than an hour.

Note that the space shuttle orbiters got individual names, because they were flown repeatedly; the expendable booster & ET portions of the space shuttle stack did not.

Given the glee with which SpaceX has named their landing barges, it’s a little odd that they haven’t given names to their reused Falcon 9 first stages; it suggests that they still consider Falcon first stage recovery to be something of an experimental project. Losing booster B1051 in a crash doesn’t look as bad PR-wise as losing the good ship Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall.

It wouldn’t surprise me if then SpaceX Starships get individual names at some point.

  • $\begingroup$ Starship is the upper stage, but otherwise I agree with you that it seems likely the reused first stages will probably get names once they are no longer experimental. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 22 '19 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Spacex have already suggested that Starships will get their own names. For example the first one to Mars was going to be called Heart of Gold. I would also note that Starship is Elon's Musks goal. The Falcon boosters, while reusable, are in a way "expendable" as they're just a means to an end as far as he's concerned, with that end being Starship / BFR. So I don't think he would see the sense in naming them.. $\endgroup$ – Level River St Aug 22 '19 at 22:36

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