Hopper may hover today; Test would coincide with Apollo 11 anniversary

The first hover test of SpaceX’s Starship Hopper prototype could take place as early as today at the company’s Boca Chica Beach launch site, 24 miles east of Brownsville.

If it happens, it will fall on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon launch.

The county has authorized closure of the beach and part of S.H. 4 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day through July 17. The road closure affects S.H. 4 from F.M. 1419 to Boca Chica Beach. The county has also authorized closures for the alternate dates of July 18-19, though a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration for the area around the launch site covers only July 15-17.

The NOTAM prohibits aircraft from operating within a radius of 1.2 nautical miles from SpaceX Boca Chica, up to and including 1,000 feet above ground level daily between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

On July 12, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Raptor engine Serial Number 6 had been installed in the hopper and that the company was aiming for the first hover test to occur on July 16. That test would involve lifting the hopper to an altitude of 20 meters (approximately 65 feet) and maneuvering it sideways before setting it down again, he tweeted.

Musk also expressed the hope that the Mark 1 version of Starship, now under construction at the company’s Boca Chica yard, will be ready for testing up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) “in a few months.”

In May, he tweeted that the Mark 1 and the Mark 2, under construction near Cape Canaveral, will fly with at least three Raptor engines each and possibly all six as called for in the final design. The version of Starship that eventually goes to space will feature three Raptor engines optimized for sea level performance and three optimized for operation in the vacuum of space, Musk said via Twitter.

For trips to space, Starship will be launched atop SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster, still in design and featuring 31 Raptor engines at last count. Musk’s goal is to send Starship around the Moon and eventually to Mars with people on board. SpaceX, founded in 2002 and headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., broke ground on the Boca Chica launch site in September 2014.