FAA grants launch license for SpaceX's Starship SN9 prototype

Update for 4:30 pm ET: SpaceX launched its Starship SN9 prototype at 3:25 p.m. EDT. The vehicle reached an altitude of 10 kilometers, but failed to land successfully. Read our full story here.

SpaceX's Starship SN9 prototype has been cleared for liftoff.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted a launch license for SN9's high-altitude test flight, which is designed to take the shiny silver vehicle about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) into the South Texas skies.

That flight will occur today (Feb. 2) from SpaceX's facilities near the Gulf Coast hamlet of Boca Chica Village, if all goes according to plan. You can watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via the company, when it happens. (SpaceX has not yet announced a target liftoff time.)

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"The FAA determined late Monday (Feb. 1) that SpaceX complies with all safety and related federal regulations and is authorized to conduct Starship SN9 flight operations in accordance with its launch license," an agency spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

SpaceX had hoped to launch SN9 last week but had to stand down while awaiting FAA approval, prompting SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk to express frustration with the delay. We now know what took so long, however: SpaceX violated its FAA launch license with the Dec. 9 test flight of SN9's predecessor, SN8, as first reported by The Verge.

SpaceX applied for a waiver to exceed the maximum public-safety risk allowed by federal regulations. The FAA denied the waiver, but SpaceX went ahead with the SN8 launch anyway, FAA officials said in the emailed statement. All testing at the South Texas site that could affect public safety was suspended until SpaceX completed an investigation into the incident and the FAA approved corrective actions taken by the company, the officials added.

But that drama now appears to be in the rearview mirror. Ahead is the launch of SN9, so enjoy the show. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.