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Elon Musk's SpaceX can launch "Test Hopper" – a prototype for a giant Mars rocket ship – for the first time this week, Business Insider



The SpaceX workers crawl down the lower end of the test jumper to a starting pad near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, March 8, 2019.

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The SpaceX workers crawl down the lower end of the test jumper to a starting pad near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, March 8, 2019.
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Maria Pointer (bocachicaMaria)
  • SpaceX has built a stainless steel rocket ship at the starting point near Boca Chica Beach, located at the southern tip of Texas.
  • "Test Hopper" is the first, but only partially functional, prototype Starship: a launch system that SpaceX founder Elon Musk hopes to use to send people to Mars.
  • A sheriff's closure announces accommodation on Friday, according to a source living near Boca Chica Beach. The document warned the locals that SpaceX will "perform testing" as soon as Monday, March 18.
  • SpaceX has previously said that its test jumpers "will be bound during the first test" and that any of its "hops" – short vertical takeoffs and landings – will not appear "from offsite".
  • One resident did not report getting the message. The person also claims that SpaceX promised a schedule for launch activities but has not yet provided one.

SpaceX, the airline founded by Elon Musk and led by Gwynne Shotwell, is about to test the launch of its first rocket launch prototype designed to send people to Mars, according to a document reviewed by Business Insider.

SpaceX may begin to postpone the prototype "Test Hopper" as soon as Monday, according to a message filled in mailboxes from some residents near Boca Chica Beach, located at the southernmost tip of Texas.

SpaceX began to build its launch site in Boca Chica 2014 for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. But Musk said in early 2018 that Boca Chica "will be devoted to" the new Mars vehicle, called Starship.

On March 8, SpaceX crawled the lower part of its mirror-polished Test Hopper to a launch pad at Boca Chica. Shortly thereafter, engineers attached a single truck-size Raptor rocket engine – the newest and most powerful SpaceX machine ever developed – to the base of the vehicle.

Test Hopper cannot start in space, but it will try crucial hardware and ideas that SpaceX needs to create a full-scale Starship (formerly called Big Falcon Rocket).

Left to right: An illustration of SpaceXs

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Left to Right: An illustration of SpaceX's "test tractor", Starship spaceship, its booster, a Falcon 9 rocket and an integrated Starship launch system.
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© Kimi Talvitie

If fully obvious, Starship can stand about 400 meters long, be fully reusable and use a "bleeding" atmospheric reentry system. And if Musk's "wanted" dreams for the system become true, Starship can reach orbit 2020, send its first crew around the moon in 2023 and launch the first people against Mars in 2024. It can finally fly up to 100 people and 150 tons of goods at a time to the red planet.

Read more: Life in a bubble: How we can fight hunger, loneliness and radiation on Mars

But first, SpaceX has to prove the basic concepts behind the Starship work with its test-jumper.

Comments from a business representative, as well as the message reported to some Boca Chica residents, suggest that SpaceX will attempt Test Hopper's first integrated rocket engine firing as soon as Monday, followed by tied "hop" launch launches shortly thereafter.

Why crucial "Test Hopper" launches are imminent

Testhopper - a prototype of SpaceX's Starship system - stands with its nosekon mounted on the company's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. "Class =" bi_image size-medium wp-image-1813181 "bisrc =" https: //static.businessinsider .com / bild / 5c65821b26289876e434ece6.png

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Test Hopper – a prototype of SpaceX's Starship system – stands with its nosekon mounted on the company's launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.
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Copyright Jaime Almaguer

Test jumpers cannot fly into a path around the earth. It is a relatively uneven and knee-bent machine, with its lower part about 60 meters long. The rocket ship is designed to fly on short "hops" that do not go more than about 16,400 feet in the air, according to a Federal Communications Commission application.

In January, Musk said his company would build a higher, track-capable version "around June" and it rocket ship would have "Thicker skin (will not wrinkle)" and a smooth curved nose. "The timeline is now uncertain, since Gale-force Texas winds blew over and injured the test shopper's nose cone in February. Musk said the day's event would take weeks to repair the nosekon.

Nosecone or not, SpaceX holds with the earliest test launches of its test jumpers at a beach launch plate.

"SpaceX will carry bags of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test the next few days," a SpaceX representative told Business Insider in a mail last week.

A "static fire" ignites a rocket engine to ensure that it works, but the vehicle on which it is – in this case, the Test Hopper – is held down so as not to lift the ground. Such tests help engineers find and troubleshoot any problems before attempting to launch seriously.

"Although the prototype is designed to perform sub-orbital flights or hops operated by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be switched on during the first test and hops will not be seen from the offsite," said the representative. "SpaceX will create a security zone perimeter in coordination with local enforcement and signs will be in place to alert the community before testing."

A local sheriff delivered a paper warning about the test to residents before the weekend, according to a person familiar with the situation.

That message, which Business Insider got a photograph of, said the following:

"NOTE TO BOCA CHICA VILLAGE RESIDENTS"

"SpaceX plans to conduct testing as soon as the week of March 18, 2019 on the company's Web site near Boca Chica Beach, Cameron County, Texas. During these tests, SpaceX will set up a security zone perimeter in coordination with local law enforcement. Signage will be on place before testing to alert the community to all temporary closures of motorway 4 and Boca Chica Beach.

"Boca Chica Village residents will have access to their homes during the test."

The printed message also includes a labeled Google Map, reproduced below, and the following text accompanying it:

"[T]We will establish temporary checkpoints on motorway 4. Persons exhibiting residence permits between the two control points may continue through the soft checkpoint. Access beyond the hard checkpoint will not be allowed during temporary closures. "

A map showing Cameron County's planned road closures in Boca Chica, Texas, starting the week of March 18, 2019. "class =" bi_image size-medium wp-image-1813180 "bisrc =" https://static.businessinsider.com/ image / 5c8dd00f6123ca74cc12ed82.jpg

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A map showing Cameron County's planned road closures in Boca Chica, Texas, starting the week of March 18, 2019.
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Google Maps; Business Insider

"We deserve the courtesy"

The hard point of control is about 1.5 miles west of SpaceX's launch pad, as well as the easternmost residences of Boca Chica Village.

By comparison, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida allows visitors to witness launch activity no closer than 3 miles from their most famous launch pad.

Read more: I saw SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket thunder in space for the first time – here was how it was on the ground

A resident of the Boca Chica Village community, who asked not to be named, told Business Insider that the sheriff never informed his home. The resident also said that a SpaceX representative had previously undertaken to provide schedules for launches but has not yet done so. "We deserve the courtesy" from SpaceX, said the resident, given the launch site's ultimate proximity to housing.

Also, Cameron County's judge, Eddie Treviño, did not seem to know the nature or timing of SpaceX's test plans when he approved the road closures on Thursday.

"It's exciting and we know we're continuing to move closer and closer to the first test or what to do," says Treviño, according to The Brownsville Herald. "We wish them all the best and we are happy."

SpaceX did not respond directly to Business Insider issues regarding the size of the security site and potential risks to residents of Test Hopper static fires and hops. The company submitted environmental impact claims in May 2014, which discussed launch risks and security measures, but they do not describe a test program related to Test Hopper or launches of extremely large Mars-compatible vehicles.

But for his part, Musk has at least teased the possibility for several years.

"It may well be that the first person leaving for another planet will depart from this location," he said during a groundbreaking ceremony in September 2014.


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