First test of SpaceX Starship 'hopper' now set for next week

A prototype of the craft that SpaceX wants to send to Mars could be started up for the first time as soon as Monday.

Eric Mack
Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
2 min read

After a week of anticipation, it now looks more likely that we'll soon see a mini prototype of Elon Musk's Mars rocket fired up for the first time.

SpaceX plans to test a small, single engine "hopper" version of its Starship rocket at the company's test launch site at the southernmost tip of Texas. There were reports from nearby South Padre Island that the test was going to happen last week, and a webcam set up by SPadre.com has been livestreaming a shot of the company's Boca Chica launch pad for days now.

So far, the only interesting activity from the feed has been the occasional venting of gases from the clearly visible craft. A Cameron County official told the Brownsville Herald that roads were closed Thursday and Friday so SpaceX could do "tank tests" on the prototype.

But on Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a temporary flight restriction for the area around the launch pad, effective from Monday through Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central Time each day. Though the airspace closure applies from the ground level up to 1,000 feet of altitude, Musk said on Twitter that the Starship prototype "will lift off, but only barely."

So if the hopper does get some thrust beneath it in the coming days, it's likely to be just enough to let it hover rather than really fly.

After these initial short "hop" tests, Musk says, suborbital flights of Starship will use three of its Raptor engines. All this is building toward a planned flight around the moon already booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. Eventually, Musk hopes his Starships will move as many as a million of us to a city on Mars.

But first, we start with baby steps, er... hops. 

Originally published March 20.
Updates, March 21 and 22: Adds new test timeframes.

Elon Musk shows off the shiny SpaceX Starship

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