SpaceX’s check vehicle, a small-scale demonstration craft for some Starship components, caught fire after what seems to be a fuel leak or dump following an otherwise successful static fire test last evening. It’s not clear why the craft all of a sudden burst into flames, or whether or not it was critically or even superficially damaged.
The “Starhopper,” as SpaceX has been calling it, is a lot smaller-scale version of the Starship craft the company has in development, meant to check them out in a live-fire environment and even carry out short flights called hops — therefore the name. It’s being assembled and operated at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.
The large shiny craft appears a bit like a toy, however, it’s a functioning rocket, and it was planned that this week it might do an untethered hovering flight at some 20 meters, a step above the quick tethered flights it has already achieved. However last evening’s test-firing of the engines appears to have produced an anomaly.
As captured by a number of in the SpaceX group, the static fire began and stopped, however flames continued to burn across the base of the engines. A stream of liquid (very likely water) is directed towards it, at which point the entire rocket seems to ignite in an impressive fireball — then does it again a couple of seconds later.
It’s unclear at this point what the reason for the fireball was, and whether or not it was in any part intentional. What’s certain is that this is not how previous test-fires have gone, and usually talking you don’t want your rocket to be on fire, even whether it is highly heat-resistant.