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Elon Musk: SpaceX Starship aims for crucial hover test July 16

The "hopper" is ready to explore life off the ground.

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The SpaceX Starship "hopper" prototype has a big test set for Tuesday.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

Ever since SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the bright and shiny Starship prototype, space fans have been aching for it to take off in a blaze of glory. We're almost there. The current Starship prototype, a "hopper" vehicle built for short test flights, is ready for hovering.

Musk took to Twitter late Thursday to share the schedule. "Raptor engine mounted on Starhopper. Aiming for hover test Tuesday," he tweeted using the nickname for the Starship "hopper" prototype. Tuesday also happens to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA's launch of the Apollo 11, which carried humans to the surface of the moon in 1969.

The hopper is under development at a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica Village, Texas. A previous test in April involved Starship trying out a tiny liftoff with a single Raptor engine providing the power. 

This time, Starhopper will aim to reach over 65 feet (20 meters) off the ground and move a little sideways, Musk tweeted. SpaceX is expected to livestream the event.

If the hover test is successful, it will put SpaceX on the path to a much more ambitious goal of reaching 12 miles (20 kilometers) within a few months.

Musk must be feeling confident about the testing. He already announced plans for a presentation about the Starship in late July after the hover test, where we could get updates on SpaceX's plans to fly around the moon with a group of artists in 2023. 

SpaceX fans have been keeping an eye on the work in Texas, capturing video of the Raptor engine's arrival and its mounting to the Starhopper on Thursday.

Musk also tweeted the company has changed the rocket design "quite a bit" and that he will reveal more at the presentation. Starship is expected to eventually launch with multiple Raptors, but just one is enough for initial testing. SpaceX will aim to keep it above 50% throttle for this upcoming flight, according to Musk.

Starship is meant to be an all-purpose, next-generation spaceship capable of servicing missions to Earth orbit as well as more distant destinations. SpaceX's grand goal is to send a cargo mission to Mars in 2022 and a crew in 2024, though deadlines like that tend to slip, sometimes quite a bit. 

While it's fun to imagine Starship reaching Mars in just a few short years, there is a lot that needs to go right to get there, starting with this landmark hover test next week.