SpaceX hop rescheduled for this week

Equipment and machinery litters the site of SpaceX's prototype Starhopper Monday afternoon at the company's launch facility ahead of the proposed 200 meter hop on Wednesday, Aug. 21. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

After canceling a planned 200-meter “hop” of its Starhopper test vehicle at Boca Chica Beach last week, SpaceX appears ready to try it again this week.

The primary launch date has been moved to April 21, as indicated by road and beach closures authorized by Cameron County for that date, with April 22-23 listed as backup dates. The closures affect all of Boca Chica Beach and S.H. 4 from the beach to Oklahoma Avenue between 2 p.m. and midnight each day.

As of press time, the Federal Aviation Administration had not issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting aircraft operations near the Boca Chica launch site. A NOTAM was issued and county closures authorized for SpaceX’s previous launch window, April 16-18, though the company apparently did not a required FAA launch license.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on April 15 that he’d had a “good conversation with head of FAA Space. Need a big more hazard analysis & should be clear to fly soon.”

Starhopper’s first and only hop so far took place after dark on July 25 amid billowing fire and smoke. Musk has expressed the hope that the 200-meter (656 feet) test will take place during daylight hours. Starhopper is the initial prototype for the company’s Starship, currently under development as the spacecraft Musk intends to return humans to the Moon and get them to Mars.

Following a successful 200-meter hop, the next step will be to launch the next prototype, the Mk1, now under construction at Boca Chica, to an altitude of 20 kilometers, or 12.5 miles, according to Musk. The Mk1, like its sister ship Mk2, which is being built at Cocoa, Fla., near Cape Canaveral, will be outfitted with three of the company’s liquid-oxygen and liquid-methane-fueled Raptor engines. The Starhopper has a single Raptor, though adequate for its purposes.

Musk has said he’ll give a presentation Aug. 24 at Boca Chica regarding progress on Starship and its massive booster component, Super Heavy, though no additional details have been released.

On Aug. 18, SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” began transiting the Panama Canal eastbound after departing from the Port of Los Angeles on Aug. 1. The company hasn’t said whether the vessel is bound for Texas or Florida, where SpaceX regularly launches from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX has been using the vessel and a sister ship, “Of Course I Still Love You,” as a landing pad for the company’s Falcon booster rockets following launches.

Based in Hawthorne, Calif., the company 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 early April.