SpaceX conducted a static firing test of a prototype Starship rocket on Thursday, in which the six raptor engines were engaged. The eight seconds the test seemed to go well, except for the problematic brush fire that ensued.
The 24 spacecraft prototype is currently being tested at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX is preparing the upper stage for an upcoming orbital test of the fully integrated Starship system. During yesterday’s static fire test shortly after 5:30 p.m.Jthe six Raptor engines created a monstrous roar and raised a huge amount of smoke and dust. After the material settled down and the Starship launchpad reappearedit became apparent that several patches of grass were burning in the area.
Video from the scene, as capture by NASASpaceflight (static fire test starts at 5:35:00 in the video above), showed an unusually large fire near the rocket, and wider angles revealed brush fires several hundred feet from the stand. Superheated debris from the test even hit a SpaceX dumpster, setting its contents on fire, according at Teslarati. The fires, which affected a protected habitat, forced fire crews to come and fight the flames.
A pre-test on August 9 saw only two of the prototype 24 Raptor engines put into action, in what was a moderate version of Thursday’s full-scale test. During the eve, August 8, SpaceX conducted a limited static fire test of a prototype Starship thruster, bringing the company one step closer to a true orbital launch. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk envisions the fully-stacked, two-stage Starship rocket as a platform to deliver humans and cargo to orbit, the Moon and Mars.
Teslarati estimates Thursday’s six-motor test produced 1,380 tons of thrust, the most ever made for a test performed at Starbase. And at eight secondsit was also one of the longest static fire tests performed on a Starship test bed.
However, with great power comes great responsibility, and SpaceX is not up to the challenge; the company, as Teslarati points out, is clearly not taking the necessary precautions to prevent fires near the launch pad and instead relies on an inadequate spray nozzle and high temperature concrete:
Most likely, eight long seconds of blast furnace conditions melted the surrounding top layer of concrete and hurled a hailstorm of tiny, superheated globules in nearly every direction. Indeed, in almost every direction there was something that could easily burn, a fire broke out. In several places to the south and west, brushwood caught fire and began to burn unusually aggressively, quickly turning into walls of flame that spread across the terrain. To the east, debris even ended up in a SpaceX dumpster, the contents of which easily caught fire and burned for hours.
Finally, around [10:00 p.m. EDT], firefighters were able to approach the secured launch pad and rocket, but the main fire had already spread south, out of range. Instead, they started controlled burns near SpaceX’s roadblock, hoping to clear brush and keep the fire (although unlikely) from heading towards SpaceX’s Starbase factory and the houses and residents of the village of Boca Chica.
More serious precautionary measures, like a water deluge system, would probably prevent this sort of thing from happening. Instead, the tremendous force, heat, and burning time shatters the concrete beneath the rocket, causing superheated debris to spread.
Fire crews had no problem extinguishing the flames, but the fires affected an environmentally sensitive area which is threatened house wildlife. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration completed its environmental assessment of proposed SpaceX site expansion in Boca Chica, saying the company can proceed with its plans, but must complete 75 environmental mitigation actions.
Among these actions, SpaceX must implement forest fire prevention measures and also use water spray to remove dust and air pollution. Given what happened yesterday, these items obviously remain unverified on SpaceX’s to-do list. Not cool, Elon. Not cool.
After: SpaceX signs agreement with NASA to provide 5 additional crewed trips to the ISS.
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