Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

SpaceX’s Starship launch sparked a fire in a Texas state park

SpaceX successfully launched the most powerful rocket ever developed on Thursday, April 20, but just a few minutes after clearing the pad in Boca Chica, Texas, the 120-meter-tall Starship vehicle tumbled out of control and exploded in midair.

Despite the fiery end, the commercial spaceflight company led by Elon Musk described the maiden test mission as a success, giving the team plenty of data to work with so that it can improve the rocket’s design before attempting a complete flight that would see the upper stage of the vehicle reach orbit for the first time.

Soon after the mission’s dramatic finish, it became apparent that a good deal of dust and debris from the launch, as well as the explosion, had rained down over a wide area, and on Thursday a Bloomberg report revealed that the damage included a 3.5-acre fire in Boca Chica State Park that was later extinguished.

The Texas division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the launch wrecked the pad, sending concrete, steel, and other parts high into the sky before falling back to the ground.

“Impacts from the launch include numerous large concrete chunks, stainless steel sheets, metal, and other objects hurled thousands of feet away along with a plume cloud of pulverized concrete that deposited material up to 6.5 miles northwest of the pad site,” the wildlife service said in a statement seen by the Houston Chronicle. It added that up to now no dead animals or other wildlife have been found in the affected areas.

Residents of Port Isabel, a small community about 6 miles from SpaceX’s launch facility, also reported dust falling on the small community following the launch, an outcome they hadn’t been expecting.

Shortly after the Starship mission ended, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it had opened a so-called “mishap investigation” into the failed effort.

“An anomaly occurred during the ascent and prior to stage separation resulting in a loss of the vehicle,” the FAA said. “No injuries or public property damage have been reported.”

It added that a return to flight of the Starship, which comprises the first-stage Super Heavy and the upper stage Starship spacecraft, is “based on the FAA determining that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety,” adding that “this is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”

With the FAA required to complete its investigation in a way that clears SpaceX for future flights from Boca Chica, and Musk’s company having to rebuild its destroyed launch pad, it’s not clear when the Starship will embark on its second test flight.

NASA, for one, will be watching developments carefully, as it wants to use a modified version of the the upper stage for the first crewed lunar landing since 1972. The mission is currently set for 2025, but that date could well slip.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
SpaceX scrubs launch of world’s most powerful rocket due to valve issue
SpaceX's Starship rocket on the pad in Boca Chica, Texas.

The planned first test flight of the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy rocket has been scrubbed. The launch of the world's most powerful rocket had been scheduled for today, Monday April 17, but was called off due to a frozen valve.

The decision was made to halt the countdown around 10 minutes before liftoff, turning the event today into a wet dress rehearsal instead of a test flight. That means the rocket was fueled and ready to launch, but did not actually leave the ground, and the countdown was halted around 40 seconds before liftoff. "A pressurant valve appears to be frozen, so unless it starts operating soon, no launch today," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter.

Read more
SpaceX aims to launch world’s most powerful rocket on Monday
SpaceX's Super Heavy and Starship.

SpaceX is targeting Monday, April 17, for the maiden launch of the most powerful rocket ever built after receiving clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“After a comprehensive license evaluation process, the FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integration, and financial responsibility requirements,” the agency said in a statement on Friday.

Read more
Elon Musk says SpaceX now eyeing late April for first Starship flight
SpaceX's Starship rocket on the pad in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that Starship’s maiden orbital flight could take place “near the end of [the] third week of April.”

There had been hopes that the test flight of the world’s most powerful rocket -- comprising the Super Heavy booster and second-stage Starship -- might take place as early as this week following an earlier tweet from Musk confirming that the vehicle was stacked and “ready to launch” from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

Read more