SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk says the first short test flights of the company's massive rocket Starship are "hopefully" this week.
"First hops will lift off, but only barely," Musk said on Twitter.
Residents near the SpaceX facility in Brownsville, Texas, received warning notices from local officials on Friday. The notice said "SpaceX is planning to conduct testing as soon as the week of March 18," during which "SpaceX will establish a safety zone perimeter in coordination with local law enforcement."
In a statement to the Brownsville Herald, SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson said "SpaceX will conduct checkouts of the newly installed ground systems and perform a short static fire test in the days ahead."
"Although the prototype is designed to perform suborbital flights, or hops, powered by the SpaceX Raptor engine, the vehicle will be tethered during initial testing and hops will not be visible from offsite," Gleeson said.
SpaceX is in the early stages of developing the Starship rocket. Musk said that first "really short" flights will use one of the company's powerful Raptor engines. Starship, with an enormous booster called "Super Heavy," is being built to transport up to 100 people to the moon, Mars and more. Designed to be a fully reusable launch system, the "hopper" version of Starship is key to proving the design and mechanics of a rocket that will unlock Musk's vision of making spaceflight more like air travel.
There are "always many issues integrating engine & stage," Musk warned on Twitter. The "first hops will lift off, but only barely."
Although it appeared SpaceX was facing a setback when the top half of Starship blew over due to heavy wind in Texas, Musk said SpaceX "decided to skip building a new nosecone for Hopper."
"Don't need it," Musk said of the nose cone. "What you see being built is the orbital Starship vehicle."
Musk also revealed that SpaceX is "working on regulatory approval" to test and fly Starship from facilities in Texas and Florida. While the prototype is being built in Texas, Musk said SpaceX is going to "be building Starship & Super Heavy simultaneously in both locations." The company's facilities in Florida are the biggest outside of SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles.
Musk also showed footage of SpaceX testing hexagonal heat shield tiles for Starship.
He said these tiles will help keep the rocket cool during re-entry into the atmosphere because there is "no straight path for hot gas to accelerate through the gaps."