SpaceX Starhopper test launch delayed to August 21

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SpaceX is looking to launch Starhopper — an early test prototype of the company’s Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle — on August 21, based on tweets sent by the company’s founder, Elon Musk. 

Starship, once completed, is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle that’s pegged to be a 384-foot giant (117 meters). Upright, it will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty. The company aims to use this spacecraft to launch humans to space and to potentially colonize Mars. 

At the moment, SpaceX is looking to test a smaller prototype called Starhopper this weekend from its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, near the border city of Brownsville at an altitude of about 650 feet (200 meters).

However, Musk said in a series of tweets that they will be delaying the launch due to permissions that need to be secured from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Good conversation with [the] head of FAA Space. Need a bit more hazard analysis & should be clear to fly soon,” one of Musk’s tweets read. 

Fortunately, Musk’s “soon” apparently means the middle of next week at the earliest. Officials in Cameron County, where Boca Chica lies, announced that Boca Chica Beach and part of State Highway 4 will be closed on August 21 from 2 p.m. to midnight local time to accommodate SpaceX activities. 

Cameron County officials also said that August 21 is the “primary date” for the closure, but August 21 and 22 will serve as alternative dates.

So far, Starhopper has already accomplished three test flights, all of them from Boca Chica. Reportedly, there were two brief 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). 

In terms of the mechanical aspects of Starhopper, it will only have one Raptor engine — enough to make initial results to gauge for the final spacecraft. Meanwhile, Starship will have six Raptor engine, according to Musk and Super Heavy — a giant rocket that will propel Starship from Earth’s atmosphere — will have 35 Raptor engines.

However, these numbers could change as Musk is set to give a Starship design update on August 24. If all goes according to plan, the Starship-Super Heavy duo could begin launching satellites as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. 

The spaceflight system already has a mission booked. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa wants SpaceX to carry him and a few other artists to a trip around the moon by 2023.

Significantly, the rocket is set to be a central piece in Musk’s commercial plans in space, as it will also be used to reach Mars and, hopefully, to come back to Earth for reuse.

Approximately, the Starship rockets are expected to launch up to 24 times a year from SpaceX’s current flagship launchpad 39A, the draft of the company’s environmental assessment said.

The rockets will also be integral in NASA’s Artemis mission, which hopes to bring man back and the first woman to the moon by 2024. The 39A launchpad would also support NASA’s future moon missions from the same Kennedy Space Centre site used for the Apollo lunar missions.

Furthermore, there are two sets of Starship vehicles that are being developed by SpaceX. Currently, both Starship spacecraft is being developed by separate teams of SpaceX engineers. One of which in Boca Chica, Texas and Starship Mk2, in Cocoa, Florida.

In the near future, SpaceX hopes to able to perform launches specifically targeting Mars and its endeavors of colonizing the red planet, Paul Wooster, the principal Mars development engineer at SpaceX, said during a speech at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington in May. 

He explained that SpaceX’s first launch to Mars would be an uncrewed test to determine the environment of the planet such as the presence of natural resources and build the infrastructure necessary to support the company’s Starship flights to and from Mars; that could include landing pads and refueling stations for the reusable rockets. 

Meanwhile, the company also wants to use water ice from the planet’s surface and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere to refuel Starships on Mars, enabling the rockets to return to Earth. 

“SpaceX’s intent, Elon’s intent in founding SpaceX was to enable humanity to become a multiplanet species, allowing us to establish cities on Mars” and to inspire people, Wooster said. “So, while some aspects of [Musk’s vision] are an artist’s concept, the vehicle itself is very much in development now.”

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