This very well may just be outside our lexicon at the moment, due to the fact that space travel is extremely limited, but I am looking for the proper terminology to refer to a space vessel that had been rendered a wreck or a derelict, and was repaired and refitted into a workable vessel. In naval terms, a sunk vessel would be refloated, but that term is awkward to use in space.

Something like reatmosphered fits the context, but it is awkward and not in the lexicon (though its form makes its intent clear, and could be readily used).

Any ideas?

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    I am not going to vote to close, but I suggest that you ask this question, somewhat edited, on scifi.stackexchange.com, probably with the Star Trek tag. I'll bet that Star Trek has the word. A space vessel that has been wrecked would probably be repaired in space or on a base on a low gravity asteroid or moon. Getting a badly wrecked ship down through an atmosphere seems dicey.
    – ab2
    Jul 10, 2017 at 17:24
  • I've added the single-word requests tag. Hope that's okay.
    – NVZ
    Jul 10, 2017 at 18:20
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    Personally I would understand what is meant better with "repairing" or "refitting" for both a space vessel or a naval vessel. You won't use the word(s) outside a paragraph where the that mentions the type of vessel. (I'd think "re-floating" might only get the ship off the bottom after which it would need to be towed to a repair yard for extensive replacement of hopelessly damaged equipment.) Just a comment, not an answer.
    – Tom22
    Jul 10, 2017 at 20:10
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    @ab2 space.stackexchange.com might be a better one. Jul 10, 2017 at 21:36
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    How about re-launch? Rockets launch into space. Already suggested in an answer. Given Star Wars and Star Trek as well as space stations and Apollo, how can this not be in the lexicon?
    – Xanne
    Jul 10, 2017 at 22:11

10 Answers 10


Consider recommission, which is defined (somewhat obviously) by oxforddictionaries.com as "commission again".

This sense of "commission", in turn, is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

Bring (something newly produced) into working condition

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    Recommissioning doesn't imply that it was ever unserviceable. Many ships that were deemed unnecessary or obsolete are decommissioned, only to be later recommissioned into active service in another role.
    – Rob K
    Jul 10, 2017 at 20:45
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    We would say that a ship is refitted and recommissioned. There is no single word that means both. Jul 11, 2017 at 10:44
  • Out of all the options, I think this fits the best with what is in the lexicon. I will probably ask in scifi to see if we can create a word that is better. Jul 11, 2017 at 15:36
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    To me, commissioning has a sense of "making official". A ship is commissioned when it is given a name and added to the navy. An officer is commissioned when he is given his rank and assignment. Only a navy could (re)commission a ship, anyway, while "refloating" could be done by anyone, even pirates or scavengers.
    – workerjoe
    Jul 11, 2017 at 16:55
  • This has been accepted but @Joe is right. This term only applies to naval or official vessels and only applies to their re-entry into crewed service, not their repair to operable condition.
    – lly
    Jul 12, 2017 at 9:04

"Refloating" might actually work. Space is an ocean, after all (at least according to tvtropes) - naval expressions and similes are rather accepted to use, as far as I've observed, at least in the scifi community. Besides, a spaceship could be considered to be floating in space. As a non-native speaker, I don't know how that term relates to willful motion, however.

  • It works for vessels that were grounded or held in some form of drydock, but it wouldn't really work in scifi contexts where the vessel continued to 'float' the entire time and was simply refitted to operating condition.
    – lly
    Jul 12, 2017 at 9:08
  • @ily There may be literalist objections, but this sounds like a good metaphor. We currently use "space walk", despite it being problematic in a literal sense. Jul 12, 2017 at 15:17

I would be inclined to suggest relaunched. The first time a spacecraft is sent into space, it is launched; if it's recovered and sent into space again, it's launched again - that is, relaunched. The term is also used in a maritime context, for ships that have been repaired/refit in drydock, but which were never officially declared unusable/decommissioned.

  • Although it's sort of a duplicate answer, I like the explanation given. +1
    – NVZ
    Jul 11, 2017 at 18:11
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    It works if the derelict vessel were grounded and then punched back into space. That probably describes all our current space vessels, but it doesn't work for scifi contexts where the vessel continued to float in space and is just being returned to operating condition.
    – lly
    Jul 12, 2017 at 9:07
  • @Ily Launch means merely "set in motion", not necessarily from a dock or the ground. If a derelict craft has been floating in space for a while, activating its engines to engage a course could be considered launching by that description. I'd even argue that to be true for a derelict that's been resting in a stable orbit, which is technically in motion, just not under its own power. It's not quite the same as being adrift in aimless motion, which is the case I'd agree with you on.
    – talrnu
    Jul 12, 2017 at 14:11
  • @lly - actually, relaunched still does work in that context, especially if the craft in question was in the outer-space equivalent of a drydock. I'll concede that it might be a bit iffy in the case where it's just floating there, and you approach it, fix it in situ and put it back in operation, without it ever being towed, enclosed, docked, et cetera and what-have-you. Jul 13, 2017 at 12:00

I'd say "repressurized" if we're talking about a ship that was repaired in space. You would only repressurize the crew compartments if all holes/leaks had been repaired and you were ready for a crew to come aboard, so that act would mark a pivotal moment in the recovery process. If we're talking about a shipwreck or derelict on the surface of a planet, "relaunched" or "re-orbited" make sense to me.

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    This is almost as inappropriate as 'repaint'. A derelict spacecraft needn't have lost pressure. Jul 10, 2017 at 21:54
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    @EdwinAshworth need a derelict ship have lost the ability to float above water? :)
    – hobbs
    Jul 11, 2017 at 3:51
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    I don't think this quite fits. While a sunken ship is definitely in dire straits, a depressurized space ship may well be otherwise fully functional.
    – JeffUK
    Jul 11, 2017 at 9:45
  • A depressurized spaceship might be functional, but a non-functional spaceship is unlikely to be pressurized. @EdwinAshworth sure, we could imagine a fully intact, ready-to-go spaceship with active life support being "derelict", that is, abandoned, but then there's no "recovery" needed. The operative verb for the OP would be commandeer or steal in that case, not an analogue of "refloat".
    – workerjoe
    Jul 11, 2017 at 16:52
  • You could repressurize a space ship that still has broken engines, and is still adrift. Jul 11, 2017 at 19:59

The current usage of Earth's rather limited spaceship fleet suggests that we "refly" or "re-fly" them.


  1. This represents the culmination of 15 years of work at SpaceX to refly a rocket booster.- SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

  2. "SpaceX Will Try to Re-Fly a Rocket Today" - Popular Mechanics headline

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    Refly already means "to fly over a previously flown course again". Even if it can be popularized to also mean "send a previously flown vessel on another flight", that doesn't imply the vessel was ever derelict. The SpaceX rocket boosters aren't broken, for that matter - they're (ideally) just refueled and re-fitted with sacrificial parts again (not the same as repairing damage) and are ready for another launch.
    – talrnu
    Jul 10, 2017 at 20:01
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    @talrnu Those are good and fair points but this answer is certainly better and better sourced than the currently upvoted responses.
    – lly
    Jul 12, 2017 at 9:10

Previously unflyable aircraft that are returned to airworthiness are often described as having been "Restored." This is a bit weak, in that you could restore it cosmetically but still not be able to fly it, so "Fully Restored" may be more approriate

For reference see: Flight of Restored Spitfire and "fully-restored WWII-era airplanes"


You may want to consider a spaceship "space-worthy again" just like a repaired boat is sea-worthy again.


"Salvaged" is a well-used word that is strongly tied to the usage you are asking for, but independent of technology level. Per Merriam Webster: "compensation paid for saving a ship or its cargo from the perils of the sea or for the lives and property rescued in a wreck"

  • 2
    Welcome to EL&U. Stack Exchange seeks to develop a library of definitive answers; this answer would be greatly strengthened by explaining why you suggest this word, demonstrating its use with examples, and finding suitable references. Otherwise, it is little more than unsupported personal opinion. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Jul 11, 2017 at 16:50
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    @choster: on hearing it I immediately understood it fit better than all answers above it.
    – Joshua
    Jul 11, 2017 at 17:45

Reathmosphered would kind of be the antonym, as it is not "returning a space vessel to space faring service", but conversely "pulling it out of space back onto a planet". "Refloating" reads like a recovery mission to acquire the body of the vessel, and not the reinstating into service itself. That would be a salvage operation, or recovery in my book. As for repairing a vessel recovered to be spacefairing again, refitting or plainly repairing it would be generic terms; with a recommission (as per Doug Warren's answer) being a natural consequence.

Re-fly" I like as term for placing a planetside-crashed space vessel back in space — but I am not sure in how far it matches "grabbing junk from down here and placing it up there, without being an actually sea/space worthy vessel yet".

(NB: I assume the vessel broke down in space, not planetside; "re-fly" [Mark Beadles' answer] would be an excellent word to imply shooting a repaired vessel out of the athmosphere again.)


It depends.

A depressurized vessel needs to be repressurized.

A grounded vessel needs to be relaunched.

Such a vessel that wasn't extensively repaired is being reflown.

A vessel docked at a spaceport or low-gravity asteroid is refloated.

A lost or abandoned vessel is being salvaged.

An vessel restored to official service is being recommissioned.

The only things that're appropriate for all these contexts are




both which you mentioned but neither of which you understood as the correct answer. Maybe you needed to clarify with some more detail about the context?

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