SpaceX Starship could be launched on its first 'Test Hop' this week, Musk says

For now, the hopper is still in its first phase of testing, with orbital tests still months away.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, in a series of tweets, confirmed that the space company will begin testing the early prototype of it Mars hopper Starship starting the week of 18 March. This is a big, important milestone for the company towards taking humans aboard the Starship into Earth's orbit — and eventually, Mars.

The "hopper" will only have a single Raptor engine unlike the final version, which will be powered by three. The engine was put to the test in February and passed with flying colours.

Currently far from space-worthy, the prototype will allow the company to test its ability to "hop" from a spaceport and land back on the ground using propulsion.

During the test, Starship won’t enter orbit. The preliminary, low altitude test flights will help monitor performance and prepare the spacecraft for future journeys as long as a trip to Mars.

Musk confirmed that SpaceX was indeed close to beginning tests and that integration work was yet to be done on the test vehicle and its Raptor rocket engine. He said the first hops would lift off, but only "barely."

SpaceX Starship could be launched on its first Test Hop this week, Musk says

Engineers working on Starship as it gets nearly ready for its first hops. Image: Twitter/Bocachicagal

In later tests, the "Starhopper" with its three engines will take farther hops.

In the massive info-drop that followed on Twitter, Musk mentioned several new details about the rocket — it does have a heat shield, there will be active cooling by bleeding fuel to give added cooling wherever needed, and the orbital test versions of this gear has already been made.

Residents that live near SpaceX’s test site in Brownsville, Texas, received a notice informing them of test flights that may be carried out "as soon as the week of March 18, 2019," local news reported.

An artistic rendition of the SpaceX Starship rocket in Low-Earth Orbit. Image: SpaceX

An artistic rendition of the SpaceX Starship rocket in Low-Earth Orbit. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX hasn't bothered building "a new nosecone for Hopper" after the original one got damaged from high winds that stormed the company's Texas site in January this year.

For the time being, the hopper is still in its first phase of testing.

"Once we get through the hopper test campaign, we’ll then be moving to orbital flight with Starship — getting up into Earth orbit and testing out systems on board and recovery," Paul Wooster, the Technical lead on SpaceX's Mars Architecture and Vehicles, told Space News.

As for how long the hopper tests will last, neither Wooster nor Musk volunteered an ETA.

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