What a world we live in. As SpaceX gears up to begin preliminary testing of its Starship vehicle along the South Texas coast, nearby South Padre Island has set up a camera to broadcast the proceedings. More than 2,700 people were watching as of 11:30am ET Thursday.
It’s a clever tourism marketing ploy for the island but also great for spaceflight fans to get unprecedented views of real-time testing.
With that said, it’s worth tempering expectations at least for the next few weeks. For now, SpaceX has attached a single Raptor engine to the test vehicle—which is nicknamed Starhopper because it was designed to make “hop” tests to varying altitudes to test Starship’s landing capabilities. Eventually Starhopper will have three engines on the vehicle.
For at least the next few days, SpaceX will mostly be conducting propellant-loading tests during which engineers probably will not even fire the engine. And ultimately when the Raptor engine is test fired, Starhopper won’t be doing too much because the vehicle is tethered to the ground.
So for the next week or two, don’t expect to see much, if any, hopping. That will have to wait until SpaceX is more comfortable with the hardware.
The truth is, we’ve never really seen a SpaceX test program play out like this, in real time, in public view. (There was far less attention on the Grasshopper test campaign six years ago, which developed landing technology for the Falcon 9 rocket in Central Texas, and no live video). Regardless, to get this kind of insight into a company that is, shall we say, fairly secretive is a real treat.
Clearly, some version of the future of spaceflight is being built in South Texas, and we’re going to see it happen in fits and starts over the next few months and years. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight.