SpaceX Fires Up Starship Rocket Engines in Key Test

SpaceX ignited the engines on its Starship rocket during a critical test on Friday, potentially paving the way for a second test flight after its April debut ended in an explosion.

(Bloomberg) — SpaceX ignited the engines on its Starship rocket during a critical test on Friday, potentially paving the way for a second test flight after its April debut ended in an explosion.

At around 12:36 p.m. local time in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX powered up the Raptor engines on a giant booster called Super Heavy, which is used to propel the Starship spacecraft into orbit. 

“Successful Starship Super Heavy Booster static fire!” SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk wrote on his X social-media platform. 

The test at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility lasted for around six seconds, which met what it called a “full duration.”  

A successful engine test is considered a necessary step before SpaceX moves ahead with plans to launch its second Starship flight.

If SpaceX determines it doesn’t need additional tests, then the biggest thing that stands in the way of SpaceX launching Starship is permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, which needs to provide a license for the next test flight.

Starship has been grounded by the FAA since SpaceX’s first test launch of the rocket in April. During that flight, Starship successfully took off from its Texas launchpad, but suffered multiple engine failures as it ascended into the sky. The rocket then failed to separate as planned and started spinning out of control, prompting SpaceX to intentionally blow up the vehicle. 

Musk also has said it took nearly a minute for the April flight’s termination system to activate, and that the company would look into why that happened.

Additionally, the intensity of the liftoff caused a significant amount of damage at the launchpad, as SpaceX hadn’ built adequate mitigation measures. The forces of the engines sent a “plume cloud of pulverized concrete” miles away from the launch site, and sparked a 3.5-acre fire on state park land.

US Department of Fish and Wildlife officials privately expressed disbelief at the extent of the scene, records obtained by Bloomberg News show. 

Read more: SpaceX Rocket Blast Left US Officials in Disbelief Over Damage

FAA Investigation

After the flight, the FAA announced it would oversee a mishap investigation conducted by SpaceX. The FAA hasn’t said when SpaceX will be able to launch Starship again.

“When a final mishap report is approved, it will identify the corrective actions SpaceX must make,” the FAA said earlier this month in a statement about the report. “Separately, SpaceX must modify its license to incorporate those actions before receiving authorization to launch again.”

SpaceX has made a number of changes to its launchpad and vehicle since the April test launch, including the addition of the water deluge system meant to dampen the effects of the intense forces, heat and gases created by the engines at liftoff.

The company previously tested this system during another engine test conducted on Aug. 6. That test lasted just 2.74 seconds and four of the vehicle’s Raptor engines shut down too early.

During Friday’s test, SpaceX once again sprayed a large quantity of water underneath the launch mount.

Musk also announced in June that SpaceX would be making a big change to how the Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft separate midflight. 

For Starship’s next test flight, SpaceX will do something called hot staging, a technique where the engines on the upper Starship vehicle will ignite while the Super Heavy booster is still attached — pushing the booster away. SpaceX has since added a hot staging ring and a heat shield to the top of Super Heavy to aid this process.

(Updates with Musk comment paragraph three.)

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.