Aircraft are normally painted with colorful livery---swoops, checkers, etc.

Has this ever been done on a rocket?

I can imagine the motivation hasn't been there because rockets are out of sight within seconds after launch, and they haven't been recoverable.

But now rocket launches are becoming popular. We follow them on YouTube and watch whole launches. And the rockets are recoverable. They come back to eventually launch again, even if covered in soot from head to toe.

So whatever drives airlines to color their aircraft with livery... it seems could drive rocket launchers, also? The audience is there, so it seems a Musk or Bezos could well use the opportunity to move them with inspiring or playful livery?

I mean, Musk bends over backward to get public support for his businesses---be it space exploration, or electric cars, or boring tunnels. It seems rocket livery would help with that. So why haven't we seen aircraft livery on rockets yet?

I'm not counting the tiny, minuscule logos as livery, and I'm ignoring the large SpaceX and NASA logos as well. I'm asking specifically about the artistic, wild, playful color schemes that airlines like JetBlue cover their jets in.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the word "livery" covers the things you are excluding, but "special liveries" is more what you intend, hence JetBlue calls them "special liveries" $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ One reason for not using any paint on rockets or keeping it to a minimum is paint adds weight. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ Livery makes sense when you need to identify one instance or group of a vehicle, among a multitude of otherwise identical vehicles. Unfortunately, we are very far from that situation with rockets. They do tend to have stylistic additions, to look good, where this can be done safely, conveniently and most importantly with minimal mass penalty. Example: The SpaceX Falcon 9 with its black-and-white scheme, including the chevrons formed by the landing legs. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 11:41

2 Answers 2


Some space vehicles actually do have a livery such as Blue origin's New Shepard which is painted with a large black feather. https://www.blueorigin.com/new-shepard/

But New Shepard is suborbital and operates in a much more benign environment compared to orbital spacecraft. We may eventually see some form of livery for orbital craft, but there are a number of issues for these much higher energy flights.

If Governments are involved there may be restrictions on what is acceptable. And governments have been heavily involved in just about all large scale rocket developments up until recently.

But the an orbital vehicle also has a harsh environment to deal with that is a problem. For example The SpaceX Starship will have a stainless steel hull covered in black heat resistant tiles on one side that will be exposed to very high temperatures and will have bare stainless steel on the other that will also be expected to withstand high temperatures and needs to be reflective. Neither are suitable for painting with much of a livery and even if they were they would soon look very disheveled. In addition the paint also adds weight, a small but not entirely insignificant issue.

That's not to say that painted livery can't or won't ever be used on a reusable craft, just that it is problematic and not appropriate at all in some cases. Perhaps a shuttle that only traveled from Low Earth orbit to the Moon might have livery one day.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, conditions are harsh, and paint would be more problematic than in aircraft. Still. In an industry that's pretty much on life support from taxpayers---which is to say incapable of surviving without the taxpayer dollars it receives through federal agencies like NASA---something like this would spark enthusiasm in the public they ultimately have to get support from... You'd think there would be more livery on rockets on this basis alone. Not saying it would be most sensible thing from a pure finance perspective, but public relations are not driven by dollar spreadsheets. $\endgroup$
    – user39728
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ Ironically, the rocket that currently seems to spark the most enthusiasm by far is not coated in anything at all. It's just blank stainless steel. $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2021 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. I think that SpaceX is transforming the economics of spaceflight and will build its own momentum and publicity. When Starship makes its debut into orbit atop Superheavy the hullabaloo should be loud enough to be heard in Washington. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ @CuteKltty_pleaseStopBAking No, the OP specifically discounts “minuscule logos” as livery. The Blue Origin feather on New Sheppard covers more than three quarters of the length of the booster which is 15m high. Hardly a miniscule logo. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented Nov 29, 2021 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ @slarty and the SpaceX logo which is larger than the whole BO new shepard rocket is small?? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 29, 2021 at 16:02

One of the major design constraints is weight. Paint has mass, so if you can leave it off, you leave it off.

You specifically mentioned Elon Musk and SpaceX: reusability is at the core of SpaceX's business model. The same booster is flown multiple times – the original design goal was ten flights without major refurbishments, and we are coming up on the first booster reaching this milestone: B1051 has flown 9 times, B1049 has flown 8 times, and B1058 and B1060 have flown 7 times.

The thing is: after the first flight, they are a little toasty, and they only get more so for each flight. So, you'll basically never actually see the livery, except during the very first ascent.


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