SpaceX Starhopper test flight ignites brush fire in Texas

Starhopper test brush fire
A test of the SpaceX Starhopper rocket started a brush fire July 25, 2019 at the company’s facilities in Boca Chica Village, Texas. Screengrab from Everyday Astronaut video.

Late Thursday night a test of SpaceX’s newest rocket engine started a brush fire at their facilities in Boca Chica Village, Texas.  (map) It was the first untethered flight of the company’s Starhopper, a developmental prototype that Elon Musk says will lead to a line of Starship vehicles that will orbit the earth, land on the moon and — beyond.

One of the main objectives of the test was using the new Raptor rocket engine to lift the vehicle 20 meters off the pad, move laterally a few dozen meters, and then land, upright. In the videos of the flight smoke mostly obscured views of the vehicle, but it appeared to be a success in that it elevated, moved to the side, and landed again. Nothing exploded.

However, soon after the smoke cleared a vegetation fire started near the launch pad. In the video produced by Everyday Astronaut the fire can be seen spreading unimpeded by firefighters, and was still going when he stopped recording 40 minutes after the launch. It took about seven seconds for the sound of the rocket to reach the microphones on the camera, so the video was shot from well over a mile away. From that location the fire appears to be of fairly substantial size.

It is possible that firefighters were kept at a distance due to the proximity to the launch pad, the rocket sitting there minutes after flying, darkness, and huge tanks of fuel.

In the NASA video below, flaming debris is visible at 0:15 that appears to land in the general area where the vegetation fire started.

Here is a screengrab of that moment at 0:15:

Starhopper test brush fire
Flaming debris from the Starhopper test launch lands in the general area where a vegetation fire started.

In Everyday Astronaut’s video below, the launch begins at 4:40:19. When you start it, it should begin just before the launch. Since he had the exposure set on manual expecting the light from the rocket to be very bright, you can’t see much of the rocket flight because smoke obscured the view and blocked the light from the flame. However you can clearly see the brush fire for the next 40 minutes.

Elon Musk tweeted these two videos. The one shot by a drone has the best view of the rocket.

Here is a daylight view of the Starhopper.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.