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Sci-Tech

SpaceX Falcon Heavy and 'Starhopper' could soon get off the ground

Elon Musk's rocket company is working toward an important launch for Heavy and groundbreaking tests for its Mars vehicle.

Smoke billowed out of 27 Merlin engines on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket Friday at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. The big spacecraft didn't move though; this was just a test in preparation for the Heavy's first commercial launch, set for next week.

Meanwhile at a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, the company is preparing an early prototype of its next-generation Mars rocket for its first taste of real air time. 

A single-engine "hopper" version of the company's "Starship" was test-fired for the first time very briefly on Wednesday evening. The Starhopper is meant for short, low-altitude test flights and landings as part of the development process for the big ship SpaceX hopes will send a Japanese billionaire and a handful of artists around the moon in 2023.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has posted an airspace closure of up to 1,000 feet high for the area around the Boca Chica facility. That goes into effect Friday at 2 p.m CT until 7:01 p.m. Saturday. The reason listed for the closure is "to provide a safe environment for rocket launch and recovery." 

But as of this writing, fog is limiting visibility on the far south Texas coast to practically zero, so we may not get to see Starhopper hop. 

Back in Florida, plans appear to be firming up for the first Falcon Heavy launch we've seen since the demonstration version sent Elon Musk's red Tesla on a long journey around Mars

SpaceX announced via Twitter that the static fire test Friday was a success and the new target date to launch Heavy with commercial communications satellite Arabsat-6A aboard is Tuesday, April 9. 

We'll keep an eye on both these big rockets, and we'll also let you know how to watch next week's Falcon Heavy launch, which could be followed by the first-ever landing of three Falcon rockets. Only two of Heavy's core rocket stages landed successfully following the big demonstration launch last year.