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Elon Musk will turn SpaceX Falcon 9 into a mini-BFR

SpaceX plans to fly some fancy BFR tech before it launches an actual big effin' rocket.

SpaceX envisions its BFR spacecraft orbiting the moon.

SpaceX envisions its BFR spacecraft orbiting the moon.

SpaceX

SpaceX's planned BFR (Big Falcon Rocket, in polite company) will be a monster of a space machine, but it's also far off from being ready to fly. So SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he plans to test some BFR technology using the proven Falcon 9 rocket.

"Mod to SpaceX tech tree build: Falcon 9 second stage will be upgraded to be like a mini-BFR Ship," Musk tweeted. 

This would involve modifying the rocket's upper stage, though Musk didn't offer any technical details on how it will mimic the design for the BFR. "Aiming for orbital flight by June," he tweeted.

But Musk did drop a few more hints about what SpaceX is up to. He says the modded rocket won't try to make a propulsive landing, a type of controlled landing on a solid surface. 

"Ultra light heat shield & high Mach control surfaces are what we can't test well without orbital entry. I think we have a handle on propulsive landings," Musk said in response to a query.

Musk also said SpaceX is building a BFR development ship "to do supersonic through landing tests" at a site in Boca Chica, Texas.

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The goal for the BFR is to be an all-purpose vehicle that can handle everything from orbital cargo deliveries to taking humans all the way to Mars. It's also the rocket meant to power SpaceX's around-the-moon mission funded by Japanese billionaire and art collector Yusaku Maezawa. That mission has a tentative date of 2023.

The BFR, which is still under construction, will need to undergo quite a bit of testing before it's ready to launch humans into space. The Falcon 9 modification plan is one step in that direction.

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