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SpaceX is inching closer to launching its Starhopper for the first time

Published Mar 29th, 2019 7:18PM EDT

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After making big waves earlier this month with the successful launch, docking, and return flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX has been relatively quiet for the rest of March. At least publicly, that is, because behind-the-scenes glimpses of the work being done to the first launch-capable prototype of the SpaceX Starship, nicknamed Starhopper, suggest that its big day is fast approaching.

As Teslarati reports, SpaceX has been spotted working feverishly on the systems that will allow Starhopper to take to the skies. The spacecraft — which is a small-scale version of the larger Starship that SpaceX says will take astronauts to other planets some day — doesn’t yet have an official maiden launch date, but everyone is expecting it to take to the skies soon.

Like any early test flight, the launch of Starhopper will help SpaceX iron out any issues that might be present with the spacecraft’s design and launch system hardware. Its “hop” tests won’t send the vehicle all the way into space, but will be a big step towards an eventual full-scale test launch of the Starship hardware.

Locals who have been checking in on the SpaceX launch facility, where Starhopper is being worked on by SpaceX crew, have spotted a flurry of activity as of late, including what appears to be an early preburner test:

Starhopper’s path to its first test flight hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The vehicle sustained some rather significant damage in January when strong winds actually caused the spacecraft to break free of its blocks and tumble onto its side. At that point, SpaceX boss Elon Musk suggested it would take “a few weeks” to repair the damage.

That timeline is of course separate from the other preparations SpaceX engineers have to perform before Starhopper can be given the green light to hop. Nevertheless, the spacecraft’s first trip skyward likely isn’t far away.