The SpaceX ‘Starhopper’ is ready to make its biggest leap


The business end of the SpaceX Starship hopper prototype.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

It looks like Elon Musk’s Starship prototype, dubbed “Starhopper,” might make its highest hop yet as soon as Monday.

SpaceX had planned to test the single-engine version of its eventual Mars vehicle with its second short flight last week, but the launch was abruptly canceled. Musk later tweeted that the Federal Aviation Administration required a bit more “hazard analysis” and Starhopper “should be clear to fly soon.”

Now the FAA has posted a new airspace closure for the area around the SpaceX test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, beginning Monday afternoon and running through Wednesday night. However, the agency has not yet issued an updated permit that would give Starhopper the green light to fly to new heights: it’s currently permitted to fly no higher than 25 meters above ground level (82 feet).

If a new permit is issued, we could finally see Starhopper make some serious maneuvers. Its last test hop was a short, nighttime 20-meter (66 feet) liftoff, hover and landing that was mostly obscured from view by fire, smoke and darkness.

This time the hope is that Starhopper will reach an altitude of around 650 feet (198 meters) before returning to the ground.

If this next hop is successful, Musk has said, he’ll follow it with a public presentation “hopefully mid September,” updating us on the design and vision for Starship.

In previous presentations from the past few years, Musk has outlined his plans to use his next-generation heavy launcher (also previously known as BFR or Big Falcon Rocket) to help build a colony on Mars, send a group of artists on a trip around the moon and even provide transcontinental travel on Earth.

But before any of that can happen, Starhopper needs to show it has real hopping chops, hopefully soon.

Originally published Aug. 22, 11:05 a.m. PT.

Update, 6:30 p.m.: Adds information on the status of SpaceX’s permit to fly Starhopper from the FAA.