The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday granted SpaceX a license to launch its massive Starship vehicle, paving the way for a maiden flight that could come as soon as Monday.
The flight is a test of the fully reusable rocket and spacecraft that NASA has picked to carry astronauts to the surface of the moon. It would be the most powerful rocket in the world - if the test is successful.
"After a comprehensive license evaluation process, the FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integration and financial responsibility," the FAA said in a statement. It said it had "carefully analyzed the public safety risks during every stage of the mission and required SpaceX to mitigate those risks."
The FAA previously granted the company a preliminary approval, but required SpaceX to take 75 steps to protect the environment.
In 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the vehicle. The space agency plans to use it to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
With the license granted, the nearly 400-foot-tall rocket is expected within days to lift off from SpaceX's facility in South Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. The spacecraft is scheduled to fly over the Florida Straits between Florida and Cuba and circle much of the globe before splashing down off the coast of Hawaii. The booster is expected to fall into the Gulf of Mexico.
Neither is expected to return to Earth for a soft landing.
SpaceX chief executive and founder Elon Musk has said he expects about a 50% chance of success.
"With a test such as this, success is measured by how much we can learn, which will inform and improve the probability of success in the future as SpaceX rapidly advances development of Starship," SpaceX said.