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I'm confused about the difference, if any, between the meaning/usage of spaceship and spacecraft.

Different dictionaries seem to disagree on it:

In other words, the first dictionary says there are no differences, the second dictionary says spaceship is mostly used in stories, and the third dictionary says that it depends on whether the vehicle is controlled by a crew.

Related: Is there a difference between a spaceship and a starship? (the difference is more clear in that case).

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A spacecraft is a simple common term for satellites, probes, and space stations.

A spaceship tends to be used in science fiction for a large and crewed spacecraft that is not a satellite.

Hubble is an unmanned spacecraft and space telescope.

The spaceship in the Star Trek series was called the USS Enterprise.

There is flexibility on these terms, but it would be unusual for someone working in NASA to talk about "spaceships". If you want to talk about the real world, use spacecraft.

However, Space X have named their large rocket "Starship"

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  • Thanks, if I want to refer to a crewed spacecraft that is not a satellite and exists in real-life, should I use spacecraft or spaceship? – Franck Dernoncourt Dec 24 '20 at 23:05
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    I would use "spacecraft"... What is this crewed, spacecraft that is not a satellte? – James K Dec 24 '20 at 23:08
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    In addition to "Starship," Scaled Composites named its vehicles SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, for deliberate lighthearted/silly effect, as if to convey the impression of not taking themselves too seriously (an irony since their efforts were quite serious). This answer is 100% correct though. – TypeIA Dec 24 '20 at 23:17
  • Thanks! E.g. SpaceX Dragon, Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, NASA's Space Shuttle. Looks like Wikipedia calls them spacecrafts. – Franck Dernoncourt Dec 24 '20 at 23:20
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    Well Dragon is orbital (and so a satellite), it goes to the ISS. and VSS is sub-orbital certainly a lot less than the typical spaceship in science fiction. – James K Dec 25 '20 at 1:06

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