SpaceX’s ‘Starhopper’ – the test vehicle for a reusable long-haul spacecraft project – has burst into flames after a series of tests in Texas. The craft was left damaged by the blaze.

After successful tests last week saw the Starhopper literally hop several inches off the ground, SpaceX’s engineers lined up a more ambitious series of experiments for Tuesday night. With one of the company’s ‘Raptor’ rocket engines affixed, the Starhopper was set to lift 20 meters off the ground without a tether, and to maneuver side-to-side before touching down again.

However, before the craft could get airborne, disaster struck during static-fire testing of the rocket. After an initial ignition test, the rocket ignited what appeared to be leaked fuel, setting off an enormous fireball that engulfed the prototype craft.

The craft smouldered for several hours, and appeared to have been at least superficially damaged by the blaze. Technicians began making the launch pad safe on Wednesday morning, but the fire forced that day’s scheduled flight tests to be postponed.

SpaceX hopes to begin using the Starhopper for commercial spaceflight by 2021.