BROWNSVILLE — SpaceX the end of this week will start preparing for an untethered launch of its Starhopper prototype at Boca Chica Beach to 200 meters — 10 times higher than the brief, fiery hop that took place July 25.
That’s judging from Cameron County’s latest planned closures for the beach and S.H. 4 from the beach to Oklahoma Avenue: 4 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 9, and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. for Aug. 12-14.
As of press time, the Federal Aviation Administration had not issued a Notice to Airmen prohibiting aircraft operations near the launch site on the testing dates, necessary before SpaceX can proceed with a launch. Two hundred meters is just over 656 feet.
Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, said he’ll give a presentation at Boca Chica on Aug. 24 covering development so far of the Starship/Super Heavy configuration SpaceX plans to use to get humans to the Moon and Mars. Starhopper is the first prototype of Starship, which will ultimately feature six of SpaceX’s liquid-oxygen and -methane fueled Raptor engines, compared to 35 for the Super Heavy booster that will push Starship into space. Starhopper has one engine.
Musk tweeted on Aug. 3 that Starship’s first orbital prototype, the three-engined Mk1 currently under construction at Boca Chica, should be almost ready to fly by the date of the Boca Chica presentation, no details of which have been released. Early on the morning of Aug. 5, Musk tweeted photos of work underway on the Mk1 behind a windbreak structure.
“Just left Starship Texas build site,” he tweeted. “Very proud of progress SpaceX team has made!”
Then it was off to Cocoa, Fla., near Cape Canaveral, where Mk2 is under construction, Musk later tweeting, “Great progress by Starship Cape team. Started several months behind, but catching up fast. This will be a super fun race to orbit, moon & Mars!”
A draft environmental assessment released this month by NASA reveals that SpaceX plans to build a Starship/Super Heavy launch pad at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral, where the company is already launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets on commercial satellite deployment missions.
The first launch of a finished Starship/Super Heavy is expected to take place at 39A, the same launch complex where 50 years ago last month the first men to walk on the moon blasted off atop a massive Saturn V rocket.
Meanwhile, the website Teslarati reports that the converted barge “Just Read the Instructions,” half of SpaceX’s fleet of two autonomous spaceport drones used for landing Falcon booster rockets, departed the Port of Los Angeles on Aug. 1 under tow behind the tugboat “Alice C” and bound for the Panama Canal, where it’s expected to pass through Aug. 15. Whether the vessel is bound for Texas or Florida, the company isn’t yet saying.
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., broke ground on the Boca Chica launch facility in September 2014, began building the Starhopper late last year and conducted the first engine tests of the prototype in April.