The Starhopper prototype of SpaceX could take off for its first unbound hover test TONIGHT.

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SpaceX’s Starhopper could undergo a big test tonight, where the ship will float for the first time unbound briefly from the ground.

The test was announced on Twitter earlier this month by Elon Musk, CEO of the aerospace group, but the short hop was postponed for unknown reasons.

In contrast to earlier tests, the giant ship will not be tied to the ground, but will try to climb 20 meters – and also 20 meters sideways – into the air and then nestle safely back onto the launch pad.

#StarHopper is blowing off steam some time ago, near the top of the vehicle. Not much activity around the side, which is a good sign! I’m looking forward to the potential hover test tonight! pic.twitter.com/871bWTKrOn

Last week the ship carried out a static fire test, which is necessary before the actual hops are harvested.

NASA reports that Starhopper ignited discharged methane again during the static fire, but the ship was not damaged and the inspections pave the way for more serious testing.

Two other company tests lifted Starhopper just a few inches from the launch pad.

According to Musk, the Raptor Engineers that lifted the ship off the ground are “dangerously weak” at a shot below 40 percent, so the missiles are fired at 50 percent power.

Starhopper is the test vehicle for SpaceX’s ultimate goal of developing a slimmer ship called Starship, which Musk hopes will eventually take human passengers on a series of missions into space.

Among them, Musk hopes that the spaceship, formerly known as BFR, Big Falcon Rocket or Big F***ing Rocket, will be at the centre of the first manned mission to Mars.

The first manned Red Planet mission for the rocket and the 100-person spacecraft could come as early as the mid-20s, if development and testing go well, Musk said.

Missions may even include tourist travel to the Moon by 2024, the CEO said.

Completing a successful mission to the Moon would be another step in Musk’s other vision of the journey to Mars.

Given the upcoming successful test, Musk says the Starhopper will try to increase its vertical range and perform a tethered hovering flight about 20 miles above the ground. He said this phase could be tested in the coming months.

SpaceX recently completed one of its most impressive tests to date and launched its Falcon Heavy rocket – a reusable rocket that the company hopes will one day safely launch and land – into space to deliver military satellites.

The ship missed its landing after returning from space, but with a large boat equipped with a net, the company was able to successfully catch one of two missile casings in an unprecedented performance.

Most missile parts are lost forever after launch, either burning, crashing or falling into the ocean and never being recovered again, making SpaceX’s reusable missiles a new approach to space exploration.

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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