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- SpaceX plans to fly an experimental rocket ship called Starhopper from its launch in South Texas on Monday around 6 p.m. ET.
- Police handed out a safety advisory to a small nearby community of about 20 people ahead of the launch. The notices warn the rocket ship might explode.
- Starhopper is a test bed for a much larger vehicle, called Starship, which is being designed to send people to the moon and Mars.
- According to an FAA launch license, Starhopper should fly about 492 feet (150 meters) off the ground before landing back at its launchpad.
- Locals have set up live video feeds to broadcast the attempt.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Starhopper, we hardly knew ye.
SpaceX plans to launch the roughly 60-foot (18-meter) vehicle — a stubby steel prototype of a planned Mars launch system called Starship — on Monday night for the last time.
SpaceX flew Starhopper on its first untethered flight in July, but Elon Musk, the company’s founder, says the vehicle will be retired after tonight’s attempt. Its fate is to be cannibalized for key parts and then become a test stand for Raptor rocket engines, about 40 of which will power SpaceX’s planned, roughly 400-foot-tall Starship system.
Starhopper is expected to lift off around 6 p.m. ET (5 p.m. CT) and its flight should last a matter of seconds. If all goes well, the vehicle should soar up to 492 feet (150 meters) into the air, hover, and then land back on its pad in a cloud of smoke and dust.
It’s uncertain if SpaceX will broadcast Starhoper’s final launch attempt, but several YouTube users are broadcasting live footage of the rocket. Its launch pad is located just off Boca Chica Beach at the southern tip of Texas. (We’ve embedded their video players below.)
Local authorities gave SpaceX permission to launch Starhopper between 3 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET (2 p.m. and 12 a.m. CT) on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
However, a public safety advisory issued for the area suggests lift-off will occur Monday around 5 p.m. ET sharp (4 p.m. CT).
Watch SpaceX’s launch attempt live on YouTube
Maria Pointer, who lives near SpaceX’s Texas launch site, said she teamed up with fellow local Louis Balderas to create the two-camera broadcast below, which runs nearly 24 hours a day.
The LabPadre video feed has one camera that can rotate 360 degrees and is on the Pointers’ property; it shows the launchpad from about 1.8 miles away (though it has a powerful zoom). The second camera is on top of a condominium building in South Padre Island, nearly 6 miles away from SpaceX’s launchpad.
Pointer previously told Business Insider that the feed’s slogan was "showing the valley to the future" because "kids in Brownsville need to see what’s going on" at SpaceX’s launch site. (Brownsville, located about 20 miles west of SpaceX’s launch site, is one of the most impoverished cities in the US.)
The cameras often switch between views, show live weather and launchpad conditions, and display other information.
Police issued warnings to residents ahead of Starhopper’s launch
SpaceX initially planned to launch Starhopper weeks ago, yet it ran into a snag with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Courtesy of Cheryl Stevens
That analysis was likely performed because Boca Chica Vilage — a small community of about 20 people — sits within 1.5 to 2 miles (2.4 to 3.4 kilometers) of SpaceX’s beachside launch pad.
Police canvassed the neighborhood on Saturday night to hand out public safety advisories to residents. The paper notices that warned of a possible "overpressure event" — a blastwave caused by a rapid explosion — from SpaceX’s experimental launch that could blow out their windows in the event of a major malfunction. "To put this extremely remote chance in perspective, if SpaceX was to launch this same exact mission every day, we would statistically expect one serious injury or fatality at Boca Chica Village between 720 B.C. and today," an FAA spokesperson told Business Insider.
The public health and safety notice comes about a month after SpaceX’s most recent launch of Starhopper, on July 25. That flight inadvertently ignited a grass fire that burned through more than 100 acres of coastal wildlife refuge, thousands of acres of which surround the launch site and hamlet.
SpaceX has responded to the incident by putting together a better fire-prevention and response plan, according to Bryan Winton, manager of the Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuge at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
SpaceX is now coordinating more closely with local agencies on its launch plans and fire safety, has installed five new remote-control water cannons on its launchpad to douse flames (there used to be only one), is helping perform controlled burns, and more, Winton told Business Insider on Thursday.
Starhopper is one of many steps in SpaceX’s quest to reach Mars
SpaceX is working toward launching a larger prototype, called Starship Mk1, that will use three Raptor rocket engines and be capable of launching from the Texas site, flying around Earth, and landing back there. The rocket company is also building a similar yet competing prototype in Florida called Starship Mk2.
Before SpaceX can launch either rudimentary rocket ship, or any full-scale Starships, the company needs sign-off from the FAA.
"Working on regulatory approval for both Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Kennedy, Florida," Musk tweeted in March. "Will also be building Starship & Super Heavy simultaneously in both locations."
© Kimi TalvitieThose vehicles are all stepping stones to Starship, a roughly 18-story spaceship, and Super Heavy, a roughly 23-story booster.
The launch system is also being designed for full reusability, which may vastly reduce the cost of accessing space. Other versions could be built to deploy hundreds of satellites at a time or rocket paying passengers halfway around the world in about half an hour.
SpaceX fired up Starhopper for the first time in April. That test secured the rocket ship with giant bike-chain-like tethers on its legs, and the vehicle lifted just a few inches off the ground. Since then, the vehicle has soared about 60 feet (18 meters) off the ground, untethered.
A SpaceX spokesperson previously told Business Insider in an email that the hop-and-hover test is "one in a series of tests designed to push the limits of the vehicle as quickly as possible to learn all we can, as fast as we safely can."
The launch is not guaranteed to happen, or even go well, though: "As with all development programs, the schedule can be quite dynamic and subject to change," the spokesperson said.
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