Big Leap by SpaceX's Starship Prototype Pushed to Next Week

SpaceX's Starhopper Starship prototype makes its first untethered flight at the company's Boca Chica test site in South Texas on July 25, 2019 in this still from a drone camera.
SpaceX's Starhopper Starship prototype makes its first untethered flight at the company's Boca Chica test site in South Texas on July 25, 2019 in this still from a drone camera. (Image credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX via <a href="">Twitter</a>)

It looks like we'll have to wait a little longer to see Starhopper make its biggest leap yet.

SpaceX had been hoping to launch Starhopper, an early test prototype of the company's Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle, to an altitude of about 650 feet (200 meters) this weekend from its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, near the border city of Brownsville.

SpaceX just needed to secure permission for the flight from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), company founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter earlier this week.

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On Thursday (Aug. 15), the billionaire entrepreneur tweeted another update: "Good conversation with head of FAA Space. Need a bit more hazard analysis & should be clear to fly soon."

But "soon" apparently means the middle of next week at the earliest. Officials in Cameron County, where Boca Chica lies, announced Friday (Aug. 16) that Boca Chica Beach and part of State Highway 4 will be closed on Aug. 21 from 2 p.m. to midnight local time to accommodate SpaceX activities. 

Aug. 21 is the "primary date" for the closure, and Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 are alternates, Cameron County officials added.

Starhopper has flown three times to date, all of them from Boca Chica. The stubby vehicle made two brief tethered hops in early April and flew freely for the first time on July 25, on a test flight that had a targeted altitude of 65 feet (20 m). 

Starhopper has one Raptor engine. The final, 100-passenger Starship vehicle will have six Raptors, Musk has said, and Super Heavy — the giant rocket that will launch Starship off Earth — will have 35. These numbers could change, however; Musk is scheduled to give us a Starship design update next week.

If all goes according to plan, the reusable Starship-Super Heavy duo could begin launching satellites as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. 

The spaceflight system has one official mission on its docket — a trip around the moon booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who plans to fly with a small group of artists. That mission is currently targeted for 2023.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.