Test of Firefly Alpha Sparks Fire, Evacuation

BRIGGS, TEXAS – An “anomaly” which occurred during a stand test of the Firefly Alpha booster sparked a fire and evacuations Wednesday night (Jan. 22) in Burnet County, Texas. The fire was quickly contained by the test stand’s automatic fire suppression system, but out of an overabundance of caution a one-mile radius evacuation order was enacted by Burnet County authorities.

Both Firefly and Burnet County authorities confirmed that, contrary to initial reports, there was no explosion, no personnel were injured, and the rocket survived the blaze. Firefly Aerospace CEO Tom Markusic said, in an interview with local station KXAN, that the event “resulted from fuel coming out of one of the engines that created a small fire.” He also stated, Markusic stated that, “when a rocket starts up, it sounds like an explosion. It’s very powerful, there’s fire that comes out of the rocket engine, so there’s noise. It was not an explosion.”

Markusic credited Burnet County for their response, but felt that in this instance that it was probably too great of a response given this situation. “It was just very normal rocket testing stuff,” Markusic said. “The response was larger than it needed to be. And I will take the blame for that. We didn’t properly communicate that there wasn’t an issue to the local emergency response folks.”

After the incident, Firefly’s leadership team made the following statement:

“We apologize for any inconvenience caused and we will be working with the local emergency response team to ensure that the local community is kept aware of actions in a timely manner.

We will be hosting a community day soon to explain what happened and answer any questions.”

Statement released by Firefly’s leadership team Wednesday night.

Firefly Aerospace is a relative newcomer to the launch vehicle market, being founded in 2014 as Firefly Space Systems. They are wholly owned by Noosphere Ventures. The company was founded by Tom Markusic, a former Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin employee. Their stated goal is to open up the market for small satellite launch (1000 kg to 4000 kg range) to both LEO and sun-synchronous orbit. They estimate their cost per launch to the client will start at $15 million. They plan on keeping costs low by using COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) technologies. Launches will be from from Vandenberg AFB in California and LC-20 at Cape Canaveral.