The Teslarati article SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 booster returns to port as NASA hints at “vested interest” shows this tweet about booster number B1056 from Jennifer Krafft Photography:

#SpaceX #Falcon9 on the droneship in Port Canaveral giving us a show. Not sure why exactly this is happening but it was cool sight to see!

One of the three photos is shown below.

What's going on here? What's burning (if that's what's happening), and why is it being done in Port Canaveral?

Falcon 9 on drone ship in port canaveral, from Jennifer Krafft Photography

  • $\begingroup$ I see the engines firing. Is that what you mean or is the "fire" something else? $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    May 6, 2019 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon I can't answer that because I am not sure I understand what is happening in the image, or if the activity can be called "engines firing". I'm referring to the intensely bright areas of yellow-white light that appears to be near the bottom of the rocket. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 6, 2019 at 4:22
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm it does look a lot like the engines firing, except there's no reflected plume or related debris? $\endgroup$
    – Jack
    May 6, 2019 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ The article linked in the question says it's "likely" a TEA/TEB purge, normally carried out far at sea, but done in port this time because the landing location was not far from land. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2019 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh The smokey-looking plume to the left is quite likely just that; perhaps not apparent in the foreground due to prevailing wind, and perhaps the burn-off isn't likely to make so much smoke or thrust that the winds couldn't carry it all downwind. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Aug 4, 2019 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


The cited Teslarati article SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 booster returns to port as NASA hints at “vested interest” actually offers an explanation immediately after they show the tweet:

B1056’s return also offered a unique – if not unprecedented – glimpse of what was likely a purge of TEA/TEB, the pyrophoric fluids Falcon 9 uses to ignite its Merlin engines. Normally, SpaceX recovery technicians likely perform this purge while still hundreds of miles out at sea. Drone ship OCISLY’s perch just a dozen or so miles from Port Canaveral and the Florida coast may have precluded this, leading to a rare bit of controlled in-port fireworks. While the sight of open flame beneath a freshly-recovered rocket triggered some immediate and understandable concern from bystanders, the process appears to have been both routine and controlled by SpaceX.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh. So that’s what rocket’s spark plugs looks like. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    May 7, 2019 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't there be some smoke of some kind? Some non-uniformity? To me it looks more like the scenario in this answer $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 19, 2019 at 11:04

The possibility exists that the photo represents a camera position directly in line with spotlight(s) that would otherwise overpower the shutter. By providing masking, the rocket permits such a direct line and allows/creates an artistic effect. A background haze that may be mechanically generated (aux power unit?) adds another touch to the image.

  • $\begingroup$ I have a hunch that this is the right answer, but if so, I think we would need a little more information; at least something to rule out the explanation in the other answer. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 19, 2019 at 11:05

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