[ Update Jan.10.2019: More on the Starship Hopper:

** Fairing recovery: One other project I failed to mention is SpaceX’s effort to return the fairings (the two halves of the clam-shell like structure that protects a satellite as it goes through the dense atmosphere during a launch) back to earth via paragliders and to catch them in a ship-borne net before they touch the water. Here is a video of a recent test that SpaceX carried out off the coast of California:

For the latest news on the activities of SpaceX’s ocean-going vehicles, see

]

SpaceX is developing a 2nd-gen space transportation system to follow the Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy rockets that will be much larger and be fully reusable. That is, both stages, which are now named Super Heavy and Starship, will fly multiple times and are intended to provide affordable access to low earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars.

SpaceX is assembling a low altitude test vehicle at the company’s facility in Boca Chica Beach, Texas near Brownsville to assist with development of the Starship. The test vehicle, referred to as “StarHopper” by some and “Starship Hopper” by others, is the same diameter as Starship but somewhat shorter. It will provide real-world data on flying and landing the Starship in a manner similar to how the Grasshopper helped with learning to fly and land the Falcon 9 first stage. The Grasshopper carried out 8 low altitude takeoffs and landings in the 2012-2013 time frame.

Things are changing frequently at Boca Chica, but here is a video showing StarHopper as of Jan. 8, 2019:

Tim “The Everyday Astronaut” Dodd, gives an overview of the StarHopper project:

… we’re going to do a quick history on SpaceX’s previous fleet of hoppers, why they build them, what this one is going to accomplish and then we’ll build a version in Kerbal Space Program and demonstrate what we’ll hopefully see the StarHopper do in 2019!

And here is some earlier commentary on the project from Scott Manley:

A few days ago, Elon posted this –

Elon Musk on Twitter: “Starship test vehicle under assembly will look similar to this illustration when finished. Operational Starships would obv have windows, etc.…”

The full-scale SuperHeavy/Starship would look something like the following (via roow110 on Reddit):

For updates on StarHopper, try:

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SpaceX has a number of other activities underway as well including:

** Falcon 9 launch of Iridium satellites from Vandenberg AFB in California is set for this Friday. This will be the 8th and final F9 launch for Iridium and will complete the implementation of the company’s 2nd-gen NEXT low earth orbit narrowband communications constellation:

SpaceX on Twitter: “Approved on the range – now targeting January 11 launch of Iridium-8 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Weather is 60% favorable for the instantaneous launch opportunity at 7:31 a.m. PST, 15:31 UTC.”

** Cargo Dragon return from the ISS is expected this weekend.

Intl. Space Station on Twitter:  The @SpaceX #Dragon is packed with science and hardware today as teams wait for favorable weather in the splashdown area for Dragon’s return. https://blogs.nasa.gov/…

** Crew Dragon Demonstration Mission (SpX-DM1) is now set for February. A Falcon 9 will launch an uncrewed Dragon 2 vehicle, which will dock to the ISS. SpaceX about one month away from first commercial crew test flight – Spaceflight Now.

If this mission and an in-flight abort test are successful, a Crew Dragon with astronauts could launch to the ISS in the June time frame. The Demo mission was previously set for mid-January but the partial government shutdown has prevented NASA staff from completing their oversight duties for the mission. An exact date for the DM1 flight won’t be set until the shutdown is over.

The DM1 Falcon 9 and Dragon recently were lifted upright on Pad-39A to check out the pad systems, including the new crew access arm:

** 2nd Falcon Heavy launch is planned for this spring. Various Falcon 9 missions are also planned throughout the year.

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