Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Firefly Aerospace said Thursday that it is investigating a problem with a first-stage booster rocket that caused a fire during a test near Austin, Texas, on Wednesday.
"There were no injuries and no significant damage to the facility," said Eric Salwan, Firefly's director of commercial business development. "We won't know about the rocket until an investigation."
The company, based in suburban Austin, has been planning its first launch to enter the small satellite launcher market. It had announced in February 2019 that it would build a rocket plant near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
CBS Austin reported that homes were evacuated for a mile around the company's 200-acre test facility in Briggs, Texas, when the fire broke out. Briggs is about 50 miles from Austin.
The company said test engineers were conducting a planned test of the first stage of the Alpha launch vehicle.
This was first in a series of propulsion tests intended to verify design and operation, and involved a five-second firing of the stage's four engines.
"At 6:23 p.m. local time, the stage's engines were fired, and a fire broke out in the engine bay at the base of the rocket's stage," a statement said.
The company aborted the test immediately and fire suppression system extinguished the fire, according to the statement. A video taken from a distance and posted by CBS Austin showed apparent flames lasting for several minutes.
"Firefly engineers are reviewing test data from the stage to identify potential causes for the test failure, and Firefly will share results of that investigation once it is complete," the statement said.
In September the company told UPI it had pushed back its first launch from late 2019 to early 2020 due to supplier delays.
"We were trying for this year, but won't get there," Salwan said at the time. "Primarily, we are having issues with a few externally sourced components, such as the flight termination system."
Issues included late delivery of components and testing or qualifying them for launch, Salwan said.
Firefly said in February 2019 that it had $1.3 billion in launch business lined up. It has been funded by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. A leading investor in Noosphere is Ukrainian technologist and investor Max Polyakov.
Since that time, at least one potential competitor, rocket startup Vector Launch, based in Tucson, Ariz., said it was "undertaking a pause of operations."
Firefly had announced in October it would partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne. One of the first projects on which the two are to collaborate is 3D printing of Firefly's Reaper engines, according to the formal announcement.
Firefly has said it intends to offer relatively inexpensive launches for small satellites on the Alpha rocket. The company also plans a bigger rocket, Firefly Beta, and possibly a space plane, Firefly Gamma.