For three hours on Wednesday afternoon, the prototype Starship Hopper vented plumes of liquid oxygen and loud jet-engine-like sounds emanated from the Boca Chica Beach launch site.
This is the most observable activity at the site since Cameron County began closing off access to the area last week so that SpaceX could conduct testing.
SpaceX began testing at the site last Wednesday and the county has closed a portion State Highway 4 to the Boca Chica Beach access four times.
In the weeks leading up to the closures, SpaceX said it would be testing the hopper’s newly installed ground systems and that it would conduct a short static fire test.
Wednesday was unlike any of the other three days in terms of what could be seen and heard about 1.5 miles from the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site.
The sounds from the rocket were more frequent and prolonged and more liquid oxygen was vented from the hopper than on the other days of testing, where the sounds and venting was far less frequent.
And it looks like SpaceX is planning more testing today.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice to airmen that airspace around the launch site is restricted for an approximate 1.25-mile radius around the site and from the surface up to and including 1,000 feet.
The FAA notice states that “only relief aircraft operations under direction of SpaceX are authorized in the airspace.”
If Cameron County orders another closure, it will be the fifth such closure since Wednesday last week.
On Tuesday, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said the county is reviewing to see if agreements with SpaceX need to be reviewed and updated because of the testing, which has resulted in multiple closures in the span of a week.
“Well, all of a sudden the operation of SpaceX has really, really magnified and multiplied. Now you’re talking about assembly and now you’re talking about testing of the Starship that probably wasn’t contemplated,” he said.
When the agreements were first signed, the understanding was the closures would occur when SpaceX launched satellites, Treviño said.
His order for Wednesday’s closures stated that Thursday and Friday could be used as alternates if SpaceX didn’t utilize Wednesday.
Treviño has extended his order for closures three times since he first signed it on March 19.
Another change during Wednesday’s closures was that the soft checkpoint was moved from closure to SpaceX to Oklahoma Road and State Highway 4, just west of the Border Patrol checkpoint.