Taking it slow: SpaceX working up to initial hopper tests at Boca Chica

Aside from dramatic, sustained venting of white vapor from SpaceX’s Starship Hopper prototype over roughly 90 minutes, things were quiet Monday afternoon at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Beach launch site, even as thousands of space enthusiasts around the world stayed glued to YouTube live-streamed images of the launch site.

At least two cameras were trained on the launch site, the nearest courtesy of Everyday Astronaut, a group dedicated to educating the public about things space related. South Padre Surf Company also hosts a webcam trained on the site — from South Padre Island about six miles due north of the SpaceX facility. The images can be hazy or clear depending on atmospheric conditions.

After years of development, a flurry of activity at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility since late last year has culminated in the construction and imminent initial testing of the Starship Hopper, the first prototype of the spacecraft the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company intends to take humans to Mars some day.

All eyes are on Boca Chica since authorities began closing State Highway 4 to traffic last week. However, again Monday, the hopper’s single liquid-oxygen-methane-fueled Raptor engine apparently wasn’t ignited. The plumes of vapor emanating from the hopper were accompanied by venting from a vertical fuel tank, or tanks, and the flaring of methane from a vertical pipe some distance from the launch pad.

By order of Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, S.H. 4 leading to the launch site was closed to vehicles and pedestrians from FM 511 to the entrance to Boca Chica Beach between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday. The temporary closure, which also affects the beach itself, will continue between the same hours today and Wednesday, according to Treviño.

SpaceX and law enforcement will coordinate to restrict access. Also, in coordination with the county, SpaceX is establishing a “safety zone perimeter” that includes two temporary checkpoints on S.H. 4, Trevino said.

According to a statement from the county judge’s office, residents who live between the two checkpoints will be allowed through the soft checkpoint to access their homes if they provide proof of residence, though access beyond the hard checkpoint to the beach will not be permitted during temporary closures.

Trevino is authorized by the county commissioners court to order temporary closure of S.H. 4 and the beach in connection with any and all SpaceX operations going forward.