WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday it was in "close contact" with SpaceX as the company reviewed a fire that occurred as part of its Super Heavy booster rocket development, but that the agency was barred from investigating the matter.
The FAA said U.S. law "limits the FAA’s safety oversight to protecting the public during scheduled launch and reentry operations. Yesterday’s event does not fall under the agency’s jurisdiction."
A booster rocket developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX for its next-generation Starship spacecraft burst into flames during a ground-test firing on Monday in Texas, dealing a likely setback to Musk's aim of launching Starship to orbit this year.
The failure came in the midst of a days-long static fire test campaign in Boca Chica, Texas, of the booster, equipped with 33 Raptor engines for use in an upcoming unmanned orbital test flight SpaceX hoped to launch later this year.
"Yeah, actually not good. Team is assessing damage," Musk said on Twitter after the evening explosion of the Super Heavy Booster 7 prototype, as seen in livestream footage recorded by the website NASA Spaceflight.
The explosion, which engulfed the base of the rocket in a ball of flames and heavy smoke and appeared to shake the video camera, was specific to the engine spin start test, Musk said.
The booster remained standing upright afterward, bolted to a test gantry.
In another tweet on Wednesday, Musk said the damage to the booster rocket was minor, "but we need to inspect all the engines."
SpaceX's complete Starship is the company's next-generation launch vehicle at the center of Musk's ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
In late 2020 and early 2021, SpaceX lost four prototypes of the Starship itself in a series of high-altitude test launches when the return landing attempts ended in explosions. The Starship prototype made a safe touchdown in May 2021.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Additional reporting by Shubhendu Deshmukh; Editing by Bernadette Baum)