So You Want to Launch a Rocket? The FAA is Here for You by Laura Montgomery



So You Want to Launch a Rocket?  The FAA is Here for You


Laura Montgomery

I was a space lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration.  I worked in the Chief Counsel’s office and supported the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  Now I’ve got my own firm, still practice space law, and blog about space law at

A number of years ago a whole passel of school kids showed up for A Day At The FAA.  One lucky little girl, maybe a fifth grader, got assigned to me.  We chatted in my office for a while.  I explained how the FAA licenses and regulates commercial space launch and reentry, and the operation of launch and reentry sites (aka “spaceports”).  I explained how any U.S. citizen launching anywhere in the world needs a launch license from the FAA (which explains why Michael Flynn’s Firestar has to be alternate future history, although I didn’t get into that since I figured she hadn’t read it yet).  I may even have mentioned how a person who launches without a license can get heavily fined, with the fines being adjusted for inflation every four years at that time.  I talked about launch safety, and how cool it is that in the United States you achieve safety by exploding the rocket. This kid asked a few questions, so I knew we were communicating.  She seemed to be taking it in, but you never know.

Then we went downstairs.   I had a meeting in AST and she sat in on that.  Then I took her to meet some of the engineers I worked with, where they were toiling away at their desks.  AST’s space is pretty fun for a kid.  It’s full of posters of launch vehicles, air-launched rockets, carrier aircraft that look like science fiction, boring carrier aircraft that don’t, sea-launched rockets, more rockets, and a line drawing of a Celtic spaceport  (yes, it did look like crop circles, why do you ask?).  One of the engineers pointed my young guest to a poster of two kids bending over a toy Estes model rocket.  The two kids looked happy.  “What,” asked the engineer of my visitor, “are these two doing wrong?”  (The kids were leaning over the rocket.  That’s bad.)

Wide-eyed, she looked up at him and swallowed nervously, but said very clearly, “They don’t have a license.”

Four grown men just about fell out of their chairs laughing.  I was filled with pride, of course, and they quickly explained the safety issue, that she’d been hanging out with me too long, that launching rockets was lots more fun than the boring, paper-work obsessed lawyer had made it sound, and that they were totally impressed with her.  The kid was happy.

The point is, you do need federal permission to launch a rocket from the United States.  And, if you are a U.S. citizen or other entity you need FAA approval to launch anywhere in the world.  The Commercial Space Launch Act says so. You also need permission to reenter a reentry vehicle or operate a spaceport.  The one thing my protégé had wrong, however, is that you don’t need a license—or even an experimental permit—to launch a toy rocket or even a somewhat large-ish amateur rocket.

So, if you want to launch a rocket, first, go do all your rocket science.  That’s the easy part.  Now, open the Code of Federal Regulations.  Congress passed the first version of the Commercial Space Launch Act in 1984, but the FAA’s regulation’s implementing that very broadly worded law may be found in Title 14, chapter III of the CFR.  (I share these acronyms not to be annoying, but so you will recognize them as you pursue your research, because lots of other people use them.)  The regulations get very detailed, and are full of design and test requirements for the flight termination system you will need to destroy your rocket in case it goes off course.  You need a flight termination system if you are launching a large expendable launch vehicle (ELV), the kind that jettisons its component stages in the ocean on its way to orbit, but if you are flying people on board the FAA may try to be more flexible.  (The Shuttle used to have a flight termination system).  You will also have to launch far enough away from other people that you meet the FAA’s risk criteria.  If you have a really big rocket this likely means you should launch over the ocean.  We took the risk criteria from the Air Force, which called them the “expected casualty” numbers.  I meekly suggested calling it something else but got overruled.

Anyway, back to your license application.  Make sure you have filled it out completely enough for the FAA to get started working on it.  If you do, the clock starts ticking on the FAA, which has 180 days to complete a review where it makes sure you are capable of satisfying the regulations.  If you provide only a semi-finished application, the FAA can stop the clock.  You will be annoyed but will get to complain how the government is slowing you down.

Then there’s the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental impact statements and environmental assessments for major federal actions, which includes licensing. If you launch from an existing spaceport you won’t have to do too much work for an environmental review.  If you go from a new place of your own, you might be out there counting desert tortoises before you can launch to establish an environmental baseline.  You have been warned.

You need a payload review.  If your payload isn’t licensed by the FCC or NOAA, the FAA gets to look at it for whether there are any national security or foreign policy concerns.   (The latter is something I’ve been writing and testifying about a lot, but you’re the launch operator with plenty of other things to worry about, so I won’t go into that today.)

Do you want to put people on your rocket?  There are legal requirements for that, too. There are three types of people you might take to space or on a suborbital jaunt:  space flight participants, crew, and government astronauts. The FAA isn’t allowed to regulate how you design or operate your rocket to protect the people on board until 2023, unless there has been a death, serious injury, or a close call.  Because the crew are part of the flight safety system, the FAA determined it could have regulations in place to protect the crew.  That those requirements might also protect space flight participants is purely a coincidence.   However, just because the FAA can’t tell you what to do to protect the space flight participants doesn’t mean you are out of its clutches.  You have to provide the crew and space flight participants, but not the government astronauts because they already know how dangerous this is, informed consent in writing.  You have to tell them the safety record of your vehicle and others like it, that the government has not certified it as safe, and that they could be hurt or die.

Once you get your license, you have to buy insurance or show the FAA that you have enough money to cover the damage you may cause to third parties or U.S. government property.  Also, you have to sign waivers of claims with the government, all your customers (each person who has put an object on your vehicle as a payload), crew, space flight participants, and your contractors and subcontractors.  Everyone, to put it in largely accurate terms, has to agree not to sue everyone else.

At this point, your eyes may be glazing over.  You might think to yourself that you will incorporate as a foreign entity and go launch somewhere else like they did in Firestar, and get away from all of this.  Not so fast.  Firestar was alternate future history, and the people who administer the dread ITAR, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, will want to take a look at you if you try to provide your launch technology to a foreign entity, which is what you have become if you incorporate in another country.

When you decide that’s too hard, the FAA will be there for you.  Welcome back.

300 thoughts on “So You Want to Launch a Rocket? The FAA is Here for You by Laura Montgomery

  1. Does the FAA have the power to stop your launch if it deems it to be too dangerous or on other grounds? Does it have to disclose on what grounds your launch is stopped, if that is what it decides?

    1. Yes, it does have the power to stop your launch. It probably has the power to destroy your launch, but no one seems interested in that. It does have to disclose the basis for stopping your launch.

      1. Strange. I wasn’t aware that the FAA had operational control of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, PAC-1 or PAC-2, or the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD; previously known as National Missile Defense – NMD) systems. Or even the authority to launch an air strike against your launch facilities. Which would make having the power to destroy your launch a wee bit problematical.

        1. Lol. Very funny. When I said “power” I meant the legal ability. Nowadays, if you launch an expendable launch vehicle it has a bunch of ordnance on board. If the rocket goes off course, there’s a guy on the ground who sends a signal to activate the ordnance, and destroys the rocket over the ocean. I have suggested on occasion that the FAA’s statutory authority to terminate flight means that the guy on the ground could work for the FAA. Typically, that guy works for the Air Force at the Cape and Vandenberg, or NASA at Wallops.

          1. Sat console for many a Spacelab mission on the payload data team at Marshall. Launches were always a nail biter from ignition until SRB separation, legacy of Challenger.
            Tense as any of the ground support positions were, we all knew the guy who had the roughest detail was the poor blue suit range safety officer with the authority to send the vehicle destruct signal should things go horribly wrong and the bird head towards downtown Orlando. At least his job was essentially done at MECO, though I suspect a similar function was at least possible during reentry.

              1. Odd, I always assumed it did, so it was no surprise to me when the conspiracy theories regarding the possible transmission of the destruct signal from Russian operatives began circulating.

            1. I have absolutly no direct knowledge, and your console time multiple compared to mine is infinity, but I was under the impression there was no reliable data link available during reentry, to the point that the comms capability during the early shuttle test flights were a complete shock to the mission planners, who had been expecting the Apollo “communications blackout” and instead were getting intermittent data streams as the vehicle did those big s-turns that were part of the whole crossrange thingee.

              1. …so to complete the thought, was the FTS on entry only for a case where the vehicle made it through the high energy part and then got goofy at low altitude over an orphanage?

              1. Sorry, Marshall Space Flight Center MSFC, home of the Payload Operations Control Center, or POCC. Johnson, JSC does crew and vehicle stuff. All the science operations are run out of Marshall, or through them from remote locations. We pioneered remote ops during the early Spacelab missions. Prior to that the science teams had to come to Huntsville to have any interaction with on board operations.

          2. I’m with Dr P. Don’t like expendable launch vehicles. Non-expendable, then we shouldn’t need ordinance to destroy it.

            1. Wallops Flight Facility is a NASA launch site on the Virginia coast near Chincoteague. It has orbital and suborbital launches. Orbital ATK launches from there for its cargo flights to the International Space Station.

          3. And it would be wise not to assume that guy is the only guy with either the destruct code or a transmitter. One of the plot points in David Weber’s “Path of the Fury” is that the Bad Guys were renegade Fleet personnel who could keep the FTL courier drones launched by the people they attacked from getting through by transmitting an override destruct signal to them.

        2. no, but they can certainly fine you out of existence, and then arrest you for not paying your fines, seize your bank accounts, etc.

          1. Not if I’m on the moon! Hahahahaha!!!

            Oh, wait, my bank accounts would need to be on the moon too. Nevermind.

  2. That sucks. I’m gonna take Sue (my girlfriend), Johnny (her kid brother) and Ben, my college roommate (who, by the way, a a great test pilot!) into space in this rocket I built and if the government tries to stop me that would mean my other college roommate, Viktor will beat me, and that cannot be allowed to happen!

    I may resort to Plan B. My nephew and his pals have built a rocket ship and I can hitch a ride with them.

    Unless these experiments I am performing on those asteroidal platinum wastes pan out. They’ve shown some interesting reactions with copper …

    1. Yeah! And an office tower in Manhattan is totally okay as a launch site, right? I mean, what could happen?

      Hellz yeah.

        1. The problem with Manhattan is not IQ, it is bleedin’ common sense (more accurately, lack thereof.) It ain’t that they don’t know things, it is that so much of what they know is just flat wrong.

    2. Dang it, I know I’ve read that book, and it was a decent read, but I can’t think of what it was.

      1. Three book reference … okay, two books and a comic. I won’t insult by naming the comic, but the two spaceships cited are the Galileo and the Skylark — if that isn’t sufficient you haven’t read that book.

        1. Okay, actually the one I was thinking of was Red Thunder, mentioned below. It’s been a while since I read it, but I think the MC took his girlfriend, his school buddy (not sure if they were roommates or not) his buddies girlfriend and his buddies jacked up pickup. Not sure if there was a kid brother involved or not, I could have been conflating that with one of the books you were referencing, since I have read it also.

  3. Yep, absolute nightmare, even IF you’re a real company… One of my shipmates is a current astronaut, working with SpaceX on their version of spam in a can. Her stories are amazing about the hoop jumping required!

  4. Conquest’s Third Law:

    The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

    1. A fellow officer used to tell me that the easiest way to understand the Air Force was to assume it was run by a board of 3 idiots who made all decision by minority vote.

    1. You know, I don’t object to aviation regulators in principle. Because what goes up must come down, and I don’t want it coming down on me. That’s a reasonable application of the blunt instrument that is government.

      Also, in a world filled with ICBMs and nukes, it is only reasonable that launches from a country’s territory be regulated. You can’t have some guy shooting sub-orbital missiles with significant payloads off at will, you need to know what’s aboard. Because it might fall on somebody.

      But, should the biggest hurdle a space company faces be the regulations? Regulation is not supposed to make things impossible, it is supposed to give the general public some defense from misadventure and negligence. Making the regulatory barrier insurmountable -decreases- public safety, if for no other reason than people ignoring the regulations and flying anyway, or flying any old junk and launching from Liberia.

      That’s why ocean-going ships are -always- registered in Liberia. It is economically infeasible to register a ship in Canada, the USA, Britain etc. The costs are astronomical. So the America or Korean or whatever ship is flagged in Liberia, thereby thwarting the regulators.

      Expect to see that coming soon to an equatorial nation near you. Good luck suing Mr. Chang’s Friendly Launch Company when their Liberian-flagged bird lands in your tomato patch. From orbit.

          1. Yeah, I picked up most of the relevant science in a few weeks. I wouldn’t want to design a ship to launch from ground to orbit, though. That would be a real pain.

        1. In that regard, the name Gerald Bull springs to mind. If it hadn’t been for Mossad, and the fact that Saddam Hussein was a diabolical megalomaniac, Bull might have made that space-gun work.

          If it hadn’t been for a million regulations and other moronic impediments, he might have made it work in Canada. That would have been really cool.

          Of course, if it hadn’t been for Diefenbaker, Canada might have been putting satellites in orbit by firing them from the Arrow. Avro had designs to do exactly that. It might have worked. But no, it was much more important to play politics.

        2. ITAR is like the Commerce Clause. They figure they have remit to control *everything*, except they’re purely a for-profit entity.

          Do you own a manufacturing business of any type? Have you paid your yearly $2,250 vigorish to ITAR? Chances are high you’re liable for a $500,000 fine, right now.

          ITAR has decided *anything* that might be used by *any* military falls under their jurisdiction. Battleships, bombers, ships, sure. But also socks, toothpaste, trombones, horseshoes… if any military anywhere has a use for it, you have to pay, even if you never export anything.

          For small businesses, it’s cheaper and simpler to just ship a CAD file to some Chinese manufacturer and have them ship you the finished product. The US government has several agencies that will help you do that. Just don’t do it for yourself, or they want their money.

          1. Do you reload your won ammunition? Technically, subject to ITAR and requires a permit.

            1. I am not an expert in ITAR, but I think it only applies in transactions of U.S. persons with non-U.S. entities. It would be something to check.

              1. There was some concern a few months back that every gunsmith in the US was going to need ITAR permits. IT has been pointed out that reloaders might be subject to it, too.

                1. And we’d start talking together, pull the NRA and NAGR into it, and they’d either back off, or be dealing with a shooting civil war.

              2. Nope, ITAR applies “at the creation.” Doesn’t matter if or where it’s sold.

      1. “That’s why ocean-going ships are -always- registered in Liberia.”

        This is called a “flag of convenience” and while Liberia is a major player, it’s not the only one by any means. Ships registered in Panama and the Marshall Islands are also quite common. There are a bunch of other registries. Sometimes there’s an advantage to be had in choosing one flag of convenience over another — depending on exactly what you’re carrying, which ports you travel between the most, whether your FOC country suddenly becomes involved in a war, or is declared a terrorist state, or…

        For instance, North Korea operates a FOC registry. I suspect that the owners of those vessels are reevaluating the wisdom of that as we speak. 🙂

        1. Do they have a locker full of flags, and chose which one for the day based on what’s in the hold? 🙂

          1. 🙂

            I’m pretty sure you do have to file formal paperwork to change from one country to another. It’s not just a matter of suddenly running up the Jolly Roger…er, the North Korean flag.

            It’s interesting how many small countries make money by doing stuff like this — selling stamps, registering ships, incorporating banks…

            The all-time great small-country lottery winner has got to be Tuvalu. Way back in the ’80s, when there probably wasn’t a single computer in the country connected to the budding Internet, they got assigned the .tv top-level domain. No one had any idea how valuable that was going to be.

            They apparently also sell collectible stamps and operate a FOC ship registry. Hey, when you’re a country of 10,000 in the middle of nowhere, you do what you can to make a buck. 🙂

          2. There’s paperwork involved. And fees. Depending on the country, it could be lots and lots of very steep fees.

            This was a topic of note back when the Somali pirates were making the news headlines, and the Feds announced that certain helpful actions against pirates by the USN would be performed for ships registered in the US (iirc, it amounted to, “We can only storm the ship, and save the crew and your cargo if your ship has a US flag. Otherwise, we’ll have to hold back and watch from a distance as the pirates take your ship and cargo to the place they’re going to keep it until you pay their ransom.). Some of the articles discussing this announcement also noted that an awful lot of commercial ships that were technically owned by Americans weren’t actually flagged in the US, and explained why. And as a result, those ships weren’t going to have the US Navy looking out for them.

  5. If you want to start an aviation company do you have to get a similar amount of regulatory approval? Or is it just spaceship companies?

    1. Probably even more regulation for aircraft than launch vehicles. Airlines need operating certificates. Aircraft manufacturers need design, type, and production certificates. There’s a host of design standards that apply to aircraft.

      1. Far 121, 25, 135, et Al. For now the assumption that space travelers are able to be trained in their own safety. In airlines you have to account for the 45 year old child who wants to take his carry-on down the escape slide as well as those who may not understand cabin crew. Iirc there are some conditions where company aircraft may be under 91 as well.

        1. The informed consent requirements are there because of the moratorium on regulating to protect the people on board. At the FAA we called it a moratorium. Industry folks call it a “learning period” and it is meant to be akin to the barnstorming era aviation had, with minimal regulation and a lot of freedom to try new things.

          1. Ya. But for now air travel is incidental to the trip. Space travel it is the intent of the trip. The latter typically are more cognizant of what they are doing and can actually give informed consent. Same as the difference between a ferry and a dive boat or fishing boat. The former you expect much more of crew in emergency than the latter.

            If cst moves forward to the point where travel is incidental to destination you will see as much or more regulation for the same reason. Go to Walmart and look at everyone. That’s probably about average. Half the populace is more dense than that.

      2. My sister-in-law used to work for a Kansas-based light aircraft manufacturer. Much of their product line at the time was several decades old, almost unchanged since introduction.

        She said they had entire rooms full of blueprints for updates and upgrades… almost none of which had been implemented. Because their legal people had told them that would be tantamount to admitting the original products were flawed, and the cost of defending a lawsuit would exceed the profit of making an improved, safer product.

          1. Look up the lawsuit that finally got Congress to step in and put a limit on liability suits for small aircraft. TL;DR version: guy was stupid, someone tried to stop him from being stupid, the well-meaning individual got badly hurt, and sued the manufacturer of the plane because “the tailwheel design of the aircraft made it inherently dangerous.”

            1. That legislation (GARA, see is why Cessna is producing new piston aircraft today: They had halted production in 1986 due in large part to the infinite product liability tail, with product liability suits being brought againts them for product built and sold in the 1930s. Cessna told Congress that they’d start up the next day if aviation liability reform was passed limiting their liability to new aircraft only. In 1994 Congress passed GARA, limiting liability on any plane or part 18 or more years old at the time of an accident, and Cessna restarted their piston single production lines that same year.

            2. I remember the story of a guy who ran out of fuel, deadsticked the plane onto an Interstate highway, coasted to the next exit, coasted up the ramp and into a gas station, and stopped at a pump. Some passerby saw an AIRPLANE at the station getting gas, and stared until he ran off the road.

              He sued the manufacturer.

        1. And they were damned fools for having such a room in the first place, because the second thing a lawyer will ask is if they knew of plans for any technology that would have prevented the incident, followed by “why didn’t you use it?”.

      3. And in the absence of FAR part xxx applicable to getting approval from your launch vehicle’s design and production from the FAA, they instead license the launch. This is actually a reasonablechoice, so as not to startngle the industry in the cradle – if they had to meet the design certification requirements that Lockheed or even Cessna has to meet, there would be nothing.

        Though the Experimental Amateur Built regulations would be an interesting avenue to try and use (or Experimental Flight Test), though neither can be used to provide flights for hire.

        And I wonder how they will enforce those entry license provisions when SumAlienDood comes zooming in to land in on US soil. Does the FAA have a Extraterrestrial Rapid Reponse Licensing Enforcement Team? Are they clearly broadcasting the requirements out to the universe at large so incoming ETs know the score? National Enquiring minds want to know!

          1. I hope that by the time some alien wants to land on Earth, we would have border patrol/ customs and immigration out by Alpha Centauri if not further out.

          2. So here’s a hypothetical:

            Space Mining Inc., a US Corporation, gets a FAA launch and reentry license for their reusable space launch vehicle, Space Mining One. Space Mining One launches under said license with crew onboard made up of only U.S. Persons, navigates to an asteroid, and mines all kind of cool stuff out of it. The crew uses said cool stuff to build another spacecraft, Space Mining Two, using nothing that came up on Space Mining One except tools and crew expertise – all materials used to build Space Mining Two came from the mining operations on the asteroid. The crew then fills up the cargo hold of Space Mining Two with huge piles of Gold and Platinum bars, also mined from the asteroid.

            Space Mining Inc wants to Space Mining Two, which never launched from Earth and contains no materials launched from Earth, to land back at the closest airport to Space Mining Inc.’s company HQ. Obviously Space Mining Two, just like SomeAlienDood above, is not reentering.

            Does Space Mining Inc. Need to get Space Mining Two one of those non-existent FAA “entry licenses” to enter and land in the US?

            1. That’s one of those things that will require plenty of head/legal work once humans have a foothold in space.

              I suspect that the US government would make it easier to “get an reentry license” for US based companies.

              After all, the more money such companies can make, the more tax income for the US government. 😀

            2. This is where you’d start to look to figure that one out.
              51 USC 50902
              (16) “reenter” and “reentry” mean to return or attempt to return, purposefully, a reentry vehicle and its payload or human beings, if any, from Earth orbit or from outer space to Earth.
              (19) “reentry vehicle” means a vehicle designed to return from Earth orbit or outer space to Earth, or a reusable launch vehicle designed to return from Earth orbit or outer space to Earth, substantially intact.

  6. What about British, Japanese or Israeli companies? Company owned and operated by citizens of that country. Not like American ships that are foreign flagged.

    1. The UK and Japan have space laws that they apply to their companies. I don’t know about Israel. If, however, a foreign company wants to launch from the United States, it needs an FAA license. The Commercial Space Launch Act says so.

      1. Israel would actually probably be a pretty good place to launch from. Decent weather, a high-tech population to support your launches, and a huge body of water that you can launch over (and drop debris into if your launch goes bad). And it’s not that much further north than Florida.

        The fly in the ointment, of course, is the guys next door who would think that blowing up your launch pad while a rocket is preparing to launch is a cause for celebration…

        1. that and for most standard orbits you would launch over them, not over the ocean.

        2. Except the planet is rotating the wrong way for Israel to do efficient launches over the Med.

  7. I guess you need all that government with explody rockets and hypergolic fuels, but what about anti-grav, G-Coils, and traction drives? Does the FAA regulate space elevators and skyhooks?

  8. 1. You say anywhere in the world. Does this only apply to launches from Earth? If an American is somehow on another planet, do they have to get approval to launch rockets through the FAA? How much is the fine? Could an after the fact wavier be had if the launch was both necessary and impossible to get pre approval for?
    2. Would this apply to a reaction-less launch vehicle, or other technically not a rocket, physically impossible in the real world spacecraft?

    1. Yes, the FAA has jurisdiction over Americans launching from Earth, but not from the Moon. The maximum fine was originally $100,000 per violation (it could be less if you do something less egregious). The fine has now been adjusted for inflation to not more than $229,562 for each violation. A separate violation occurs for each day the violation continues.

      Me, I would never count on an after the fact waiver.

      As for things that haven’t been invented yet, if it’s going to outer space it probably meets the definition of a launch vehicle and a launch and needs a license. I once had a charming conversation with someone who was going to be a panelist at a conference about space elevators . We agreed it would be easy to argue that the space elevator needed a launch license. Since everyone uses the word “spacecraft” differently, I will note that the FAA does not have jurisdiction on orbit.

      1. Now I’m imagining a short story where the space colonists launch their generation ship without permit, and centuries later their descendants visit Earth again after invention of FTL, and get hit with billions in fines.

      2. FAA has authority over commercial air space, orbit and beyond is international agreements. One such is that before you launch any hardware into space you must have a valid and approved disposal plan. Basically your three options are reentry, solar orbit, or leave the system.
        Now the beanstalk thing is interesting. In one sense you’re still connected to the Earth so FAA doesn’t factor in, but you are an intrusion and obstruction of commercial airspace. Should we ever build one, I suspect the international legal community will have much to resolve.

        1. For commercial, the FCC and NOAA regulate orbital operators’ debris disposal plans. The international debris oversight comes in the form of guidance.
          As for the beanstalk, based on the language of the law, I could argue it’s a launch vehicle, which is defined as, in relevant part, “a vehicle built to operate in, or place a payload or human beings in, outer space.” The FAA’s position is that a launch vehicle doesn’t have to be a rocket.

          1. Ah, but would a beanstalk be a ‘vehicle’ or just a *really* tall tower with an elevator?

          2. Doesn’t a “vehicle” imply something that is movable? I would think a beanstalk would be plainly defined as a structure, not a vehicle.

            That being said, they might still have some jurisdiction over it, because it intrudes in potential traffic lanes for space vehicles.

            1. The question, as noted above, comes down to how you define the capsule that moves stuff up and down the structure. Is it an elevator traversing a very tall building? Or is it a vehicle moving along a very unusual throughfare?

              1. What he said. It could be a question. The government is supposed to try and figure out the right answer, but the government also tends to interpret the authority Congress grants it to maximize its jurisdiction. The last was an anthropological observation, not a legal one.

                1. Of course any government department also tends to interpret the authority Congress grants it to maximize its jurisdiction! If you were in X Department would you let those feeble-minded a-holes in Department Y have jurisdiction over anything so important as that?

                  I would fully expect whoever is in charge of railroads to make the argument that a “sky-high” elevator should be properly deemed a train.

        2. Digression from the legal issue, but I see all drawings of a space elevator being straight up and down. I’m not certain, because I didn’t progress that far in engineering, but it seems to me that such a thing would necessarily have a fairly significant curvature to it, due to the differences between the Earth’s rotation and orbital velocity producing drag on the structure. Do you know, Uncle Lar, if anyone has considered this? I can’t find any mention of that possibility anywhere, even as proof that it would not have such a curve.

          1. Not exactly a science fact source, but didn’t Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars have a space elevator with a curve? Something in the back of my mind thinks I’ve read something somewhere about a curve.

                1. You’re in good company. (Unless I’m bad company.) I started skimming and going “infodump, infodump, wait! more treecat! Oh, back to infodump, infodump… want more treecat!”

                  And then I stopped, for lack of treecat. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

            1. Well, I only mentioned drawings, but I’ve read about Space Elevators since the 80s, and don’t remember ever seeing mention of it, either.

              Thanks for the link, though.

      3. Sooo … the fine is a rounding error on the launch costs (for now)? What prevents companies from just paying the fine? (It wouldn’t be worth it if complying with the regulation was easier than just paying the fine, but I’ve seen some regulations that are just futile to comply with… It would take millions and a skyscraper full of lawyers.)

        IMO (without making a statement one way or the other on the current space regulatory environment): If the costs associated with compliance exceed the penalties, you pretty much end up in banana republic mode: Figure out who has their hand out, pay them, and get them out of your hair (thus short-circuiting any supposed benefit to the regulations). If the complexity associated with compliance exceeds what any one person could ever reasonably hold in their heads, it becomes a mindless bureaucratic process (distributed to the point that no one guy has any idea what is going on.) that is *incapable* of accomplishing the original point of the regulation.

  9. Ah yes. The fun government colonoscopy. The most dispiriting thing I have thought of is that when something goes wrong with commercial flight I will be extremely surprised if everything isn’t shut down.

    I will state that I learned one big thing as a kid with model rockets. Never trust someone else’s work. Had one nearly lawn dart my father when doing some launches for space exploration merit badge.

    1. A pilot died in SpaceShipTwo and other commercial launches continued. Sometimes I worry that you are right, but American Airlines doesn’t stop flying if it has a problem with one of its planes.

      1. But the idea of death in test by test pilots are ‘they signed up for it’. Lose a commercial crew, especially if it’s a tourism thing and you have a lot more trust in people than I do. Especially if someone starts seeing dollar signs they can take for their own pet projects.

        1. Ah. We might be talking about two different things. There is NASA’s commercial crew program, which I believe you are addressing. I’m thinking more about purely commercial space tourism, such as Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. I make the American Airlines comparison with respect to the latter.

          1. I’m using CST for any form of commercial space travel as seen by public. While outside WA state Boeing and SpaceX (for commercial crew for example) are seen positively they are still corporate entities and easy to gin up anger against in today’s populace. The strength of most of the smaller names is just that they haven’t​ been dragged thru mud yet. But let them err and cost lives, something that will happen eventually, especially as gets more common, and the lynch mob will form

          2. Not to be crass, but commercial air, both passenger and cargo, is a business with revenues in the trillions per year. So far the only profit centered space flights are the unmanned launch of communication and observation satellites. Suborbital and eventually orbital space tourism is still just a gleam in the eyes of a few entrepreneures and in all honesty won’t ever be much beyond a rich person’s toy.
            Public perception is still that we load pallets of hundred dollar bills on rockets and launch them into space. Never mind that we in the business know that every bit of that cash was spent here on Earth.
            My point being, that until there is a solid profit motive for manned space travel it will remain the purview of governments and research scientists.

  10. Is there anything similar to the experimental aircraft category, where you have to get an airworthiness certificate for your particular plane, but not type certification, etc.?

    1. Sort of. Ish. The space authorizations are much more like the operating rules on the aviation side. You are approved for an activity when you get a license. Nonetheless, in 2004, Congress created a new authorization modeled on the experimental airworthiness certificate, and that is called an experimental permit. It’s easier to get. Neither space licenses nor permits address manufacture or production like the aviation regulations do. You can find the requirements for an experimental permit here: (This link is not to the official .gov site because cornell is easier to navigate. On my space law blog I link to cornell a lot. It’s pretty good but not official).

      1. So this is what Salvage 1 would have had to comply with to launch from the junkyard? 😀

          1. Wait, it appears to only apply to suborbital rockets. What about orbital craft, or those intended to escape orbit?

              1. So no experimental spaceworthiness certificates for private orbital craft then. What would the fine be if my suborbital rocket just “overshot” and “accidentally” went into orbit?

        1. I have two very frivolous posts on my law blog about John Varley’s Red Thunder and Michael Flynn’s Firestar and their, um, interesting approach to space law. I may have whined.

          1. Loved Red Thunder. Well, I like a lot of Varley’s stuff anyway. And there are sooo many ways you could misuse his dimensional bubble tech. as well as some very cool ways to take advantage of it. A totally indestructible shield sphere mounted on the nose of the spacecraft comes to mind.

        2. To legally launch. A bit of horse trading to get access to the NASA computer tapes and waive fines was part of the story line.

          OTOH, launches from something like a mobile missile launcher and putting the pedal to the metal to avoid the law on the ground would appeal to some folk.

        3. Just to back up. Salvage 1 is a rocket? Or, is it a device that will be launched on a rocket as the payload? If the latter, it doesn’t need a launch license. The launch operator of whatever rocket the payload is on needs the license.

          1. On the TV show, Salvage 1 was an SSTO spacecraft that launched from a junkyard in the US and landed on the moon (among other things). Yeah, I know, but we’re not discussing technical and physically possible capacities but the legality of everything.

              1. Yup. Ran for two seasons, back in 1979-80. Wasn’t much of a show, but enjoyable on a cartoony level. Hmmm…a little research finds that the actual spacecraft was called Vulture, and in season 1 episode 8 it was impounded by the government. I think it’s available to watch on or It doesn’t seem to be on Netflix.

                1. That long ago? Then it pre-dates the licensing requirements. However, part of the reason Congress passed the CSLA was because when Deke Slayton tried to launch from Madagorda Island he wound up talking to 22 different federal agencies. With passage of the CSLA, it got streamlined down to 1. So, maybe Salvage 1 didn’t need a launch license, but it probably had to get something from some percentage of those 22 agencies.

              2. Late 1970s/early 1980s. Andy Griffith played a big-time salvage operator who dreamed of going to the moon. His SSTO was fueled with hydrazine. Griffith was inspired by a paper written by a former astronaut, and in the pilot the astronaut gives him (and the audience) a demonstration in a sports car of how it works. Then the astronaut says to do so it would take a rocket the size of the Empire State Building or something like that, and Griffith has this angry look and ask if the whole thing isn’t a smoke job. The astronaut claims his plan is it’s doable with hydrazine, which was too risky for NASA.

                Since this was while NASA planned to strap solid fuel rockets onto a manned launch vehicle, there’s some irony there. This was obviously years before “Go with throttle up.” Suddenly, government obsession with safety mocked in the series didn’t seem so laughable anymore.

                1. And when Salvage 1 salvaged one of the Apollo landing sites, the government eventually decided to buy it all from Andy rather than try to challenge the “abandoned property” salvage laws he was asserting.

                  Which is interesting, as the US Navy currently asserts eternal ownership of all Navy planes and such, no matter whether they dumped them off the side of a ship, or a Navy employee crashed it, or whatever – basically if you spend a gazillion dollars to recover that rare WWII Navy plane, once you get it on deck the USN will drive up and say “thanks, that’s ours, we’re taking it”.

                  I imagine NASA has asserted such regarding the Apollo landing sites, but I haven’t actually seen that to date.

  11. “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
    The quote continues to become more valid over time.

      1. We need laws (because anarchy really isn’t an option), and therefore lawyers are also necessary. Good ones are definitely to be preferred!

        1. But laws and lawyers accumulate. To say nothing to regulations.
          I’d compare them to kudzu, but that’s unfair to unthinking vegetative matter.

        2. lawyers that merely duel with words are an improvement in most cases over trial by combat.

      2. Also ‘England is planted thickly with laws’.

        That said, I’ve a sense that there are systemic issues with how the profession regulates itself. That ‘professional ethics’ is officially defined in ways that have effects which, looking at the entire system, make work for lawyers at the public expense.

      3. I propose an update: “First, let’s kill all the law*makers*.”

        By and large law is a useful tool. As made by Congress, much like handing a chimpanzee a running chainsaw.

          1. However, law makers make up a very small subset of lawyers as a whole, and thus would produce a far smaller bloodbath. Also, at least in MN, the carnage would be spread to other professions such as liberal teachers, and so the cautionary effect would be broader.

      4. Yeah, but one bad apple… One man with no authority is fairly limited in the extent of damage he can cause. One man with the cover of law is a force of nature, until enough people realize it and take steps to stop him. But by that time, the damage has been done, and it LASTS.

  12. The regulations get very detailed, and are full of design and test requirements for the flight termination system you will need to destroy your rocket in case it goes off course. …

    Now I have variations on a theme in my head. It starts with a group of extra-terrestrials who have fallen into the hands of officious bureaucrats for failure to comply with proper FAA requirements for their spaceship. Moreover they cannot leave because they landed in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial by the Gateway Arch in St Louis.

    1. Official Statement From Earth’s New Alien Overlords:
      People Of Earth! We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused by our recent invasion of your planet — but it was the only way we could recover our envoys’ craft.

      1. Heh. After six years of red tape to try and recover their craft an exasperated crown prince simply orders it recovered, damn the losses on the human side.

        1. Heck, after detailed study of terrestrial laws and international accords, the crown prince declares the entire craft to be a diplomatic pouch and not subject to the laws of the US, and instructs his subordinates to take off forthwith.

          1. Such a great chance for a comedy of errors. Especially with how clunky English can be.

    2. I have a half-written story on that theme. The FAA lawyer–who is sad that we haven’t gotten further in space than suborbital tourism, for which he has to administer thousands of cross-waivers all the time–is asked to determine whether the visitors need a reentry license. The White House is interested in a minimum of paperwork. Well, he thinks, they never left so there’s no reentry.

    3. Even Mila Kunis had to do the right paperwork to become empress of the galaxy. (Hey, I liked “Jupiter Ascending”!)

  13. Does it strike anyone else that we’ve made this ridiculously over complicated? And that the FAA would have denied a license to the Apollo series of spacecraft?

          1. “Know thyself”?

            I think the problem most people have with lawyers is that the law is so complex that a skilled lawyer can make solid legal arguments supporting almost every possible position on any issue.

            My humble proposal: except for the rights and offices specifically enumerated in the US Constitution, every single and governmental office needs to be re-confirmed by vote of Congress at regular intervals (no more than 20 years, and I’d prefer less).

            And all judicially-interpreted case law is automatically no longer binding at similar intervals (ie: just because the Supreme Court ruled one way 30 years back, it can’t be used as precedent again until re-confirmed in court).

            I figure that this will have several beneficial results:

            1) A lot of bone-headed precedents will be flushed out of the legal system because they may not be re-confirmed.

            2) The Congress will need to spend enough time re-confirming existing laws and programs that they’d have much less time to get into new mischief.

            3) Ditto for the Judicial Branch.

            4) Lawyers will need to spend more time on arguing the case in hand and the law as written rather than the web of legal precedent that has accrued to it.

            5) The law – and those who make a living from it – will be much easier for the rest of us to understand and evaluate.

    1. I was going to make a comment about Confederate Air Force Launch Pad #1 and its Titan I missile, in Cordele, GA (Yes, it’s real, so dubbed by no less than someone in the USAF, IIRC), but the reality is that rockets are great big canisters of flammables that can go boom.An actual launch next door to a Krystal would be problematic; so would going out of control over a town in it’s path. There’s a reason for launch termination kits, and why launches over water are preferred. I hate government regs (eye twitches – how I hate goverment regs), but sometimes they make sense.

      Honestly, sometimes it’s not the regs so much as how they are implemented.Examples include a FEMA rep who didn’t want to accept our paperwork because of how we folded the maps.

      1. “I hate government regs (eye twitches – how I hate goverment regs), but sometimes they make sense.”

        I must agree. The reasonable, sensible regulation of things that go boom is… reasonable and sensible. Let it go boom over the ocean, where nobody will get blown up. Let it be launched from the middle of nowhere USA, so if it tips over and pops it won’t singe somebody’s petunias.

        But that’s not where we are these days, unless I’m mistaken. We are much more at the “this map is folded wrong” stage.

        1. He deemed our standard fold was too large. Well, it was, by maybe an inch or less. I took them to the map table and refolded them, and they took it back to him, whereupon he accepted it.

          1. What harm is there in a map folded incorrectly? Sounds like he was being anal.

            1. Hey, I’ve had forms rejected by the FAA for using two different shades of blue ink. I’m sure the petit dictator thought he had a good and justifiable reason. The rest of us find our fingers itching for rope, and looking for the nearest lampposts.

              1. Good thing he wasn’t in Texas (he wasn’t, was he?). You could have put him down and then used the legal defense that he needed killin’.

                1. This gets into dark speculation that goes through my mind during some safety meetings. They touch on safety, of course, but also laws and liability and costs from lawsuits and fines. And as they harp on the costs and how the deck is stacked against us, I start thinking two things:

                  1. If the deck is stacked against us, why both with the trouble? At what point is it all wasted expense?

                  2. At what point will some big company look at compliance costs and look at fines and such it could face, and decide the penalties for contracting with hit men are less?

            2. In far too many government positions of authority that would be considered a necessary job skill. Not a bug, but a feature.

            3. As it happens, it might have been their recommendation about where he stick the (properly folded) map that caused the kerfuffle.

            4. If he tends to “file” all of the folded maps in the same place, then a map that was “folded too large” might not have been able to fit in whatever storage container he was using.

              That’s the only reasonable thing I can think of off the top of my head.

              Mind you, I can think of plenty of *unreasonable* things.

      2. There are lots of big canisters of flammables that can go boom that are subject to far less in the way of regulations – including transportation of rocket fuel by truck, tanker or train and/or various fireworks. My fear is that the Wright Brothers and other early innovators in flight would NEVER have managed to get the applicable license(s) from the FAA under current standards. This troubles me as I sincerely want commercial space exploration to succeed.

        Incidentally, as they’ve said elsewhere in the thread, the same regulations ostensibly would apply to space elevators where there was no boom.

        1. Somewhere, twenty years or so ago, I read a mimiographed (!) copy of a purported violation form the first FAA inspector gave the Wright Brothers. Lack of basic instruments, failure to properly display airworthiness certificate, registration numbers too small to read, no FAA tags for their parts, improper serial number on the engine…

            1. Lindberg ran into trouble with his famous flight. He had to get a waiver for his lack of navigation lights. Don’t know if it was FAA or not, but it had been created at the same time he was building his aircraft.

      3. If there is a reason, it might be that it wouldn’t fit in the folder or something. Sure he could have refolded it, but then the people in line behind you would have to wait for him to do what you were suppose to do.

  14. Fascinating look at what it takes to get into space from the legal and paperwork side. I don’t know whether to be worried or impressed.

    1. I would put money on “worried” as the correct answer. Asserting that no matter where you go, US citizens can never escape the reach of the Mighty State is pretty bad.

  15. I was tempted to quote Shakespeare, but I see someone beat me to it. 😉

    So I’ll content myself with saying that the FAA appears to be one more good reason for eventually renouncing US Citizenship. That whole Seasteading thing, as ridiculous as it first sounded, is sounding better and better. Let the US Gummint slide into history next to Ozymandias.

  16. “Do you want to launch a rocket?/Doesn’t have to be a rocket/Do you want to launch a rocket?/Okay, fly . . . “

  17. Given the regulations, I suppose giant tanks launching munitions directly into orbit from a rail gun would be in violation, right? Rapid-fire too.

    I imagine there would be a fine. ~:D

    How would the FAA collect a fine from an AI tank that can put a rail gun round in orbit at will?

      1. I’ve got bailiffs slapping fine notices on the skirts of a tank, sitting on a mountain top in Scotland. She was disobeying environmental regulations.

      1. If you are going to outer space, it needn’t be a rocket to need a license and be under the space regs. Space elevators could arguably be covered by the space regulations. The carrier aircraft for both Orbital ATK’s Pegasus and for Virgin/Scaled’s SpaceShipOne/Two need a launch license even for their portion of the launch. Think of them as first stages.

        1. This raises the issue of when regs aren’t applicable. Example was an OSHA inspector who wrote up a crane for not having a piece of safety hardware, even though it didn’t have the part the safety hardware was intended to secure. A launch sheme where the vehicle gets up to speed in a mag lev loop and launches raises the question of whether the vehicle needs a launch termination kit (circuit breakers could serve that purpose in the loop).

          1. The regulations require a flight termination system for an ELV. If you came in with something else, you might not need the FTS. You would likely have to demonstrate an equivalent level of safety.

        2. I am now imagining the launch application form for Orion.

          “First stage is a 400 ton plate of steel, propelled by an atomic bomb…”

            1. I am now imagining Freeman Dyson’s application for the testing phase (which worked!)

              “Test vehicle consists of a heavy metal plate containing multiple charges of high explosive…”

              1. I am now imagining Freeman Dyson explaining to the FAA inspector, “but they’re very -small- atomic bombs, sir.”

                1. “They hardly justify the term ‘bombs.’ Let’s just call them ‘abrupt nuclear propulsion devices.'”

                2. “They aren’t actually bombs, they are controlled nuclear explosions.”

                  “They are designed to explode, how are they not bombs?”

                  “Bombs are designed to blow things up, these are not designed to damage anything but themselves, they are simply designed to give the vehicle a push with very abrupt nuclear reaction.”

      1. Yes. I blatantly and explicitly stole from Keith Laumer, then went nuts with the idea. Because who doesn’t want to write a story with giant tanks in it?

      1. Laura needs to be in my book. With your permission, a Ms. Montgomery of the FAA will show up to tell the giant tanks off. Launching without a license. Comedy gold!

          1. She will be on the telephone. Because who would walk up to a giant tank without calling first?

              1. How about “slim and trim, with a no-nonsense air of authority. Power suit, Prada pumps, and a $300 pen poised to take notes.” Because lawyer.

                Suspension of disbelief, you can’t make the lawyer a troll. Lawyers in fiction are sharks, the goof behind the desk at the DMV is a wheezing, Twinkie munching troll.

          1. Can an AI own property? Or is it property? If so, whose? It has an opinion in the matter, but does that count, legally speaking?

            Also, it is a fusion powered monstrosity the size of a beached freighter, driving around out in the Superstition Mountains and launching stuff into orbit and between continents. Is the FAA really going to mess with something like that? I actually wouldn’t mind knowing the answer to that question. We put stuff like that in books all the time, but the truth is I have no idea. Would the bureaucracy -dare-, and if so what poor schlub would they send to bell the cat?

            From the other side, if an immense, invincible and essentially invulnerable AI. She is busy doing what she is supposed to be doing. What will her response be to a phone call from a human official? To a machine like that, a human is a 120lb bag of water that talks.

            Will she laugh and hang up? Mess with the human on the phone? Fill out the form and pay the fine? Drop a flying telephone pole on the FAA headquarters front lawn? Send lippy robot spiders to blow raspberries at them? All of the above? Or something grim, dark and horrifying, so I can get a Hugo nomination?

            1. I can see arguments either way for your first questions. If the AI isn’t property, then the FAA will go after its operator.

              If the FAA person is stunningly beautiful, I hereby give you my permission and would be honored.

            2. Re the poor schlub: Imagined dialog…
              “Welcome to the Launch Regulatory Division of the FAA, Mr, er, Jackson! You’ve been to the new hire orientation class, so you can set your packet down here.”
              “Where is my desk?”
              “We haven’t set up a window office for you just yet. Right now, we have a get-started project for you. Here’s the folder, a plane ticket and a rental car reservation for you.”
              “Will I be working with someone on this?”
              “No, we thought we’d give you an easy, fun project to start with.”
              “Thanks, Mr Lovecraft!”

                1. Feel free to use/adapt/ignore at your pleasure. I was on a roll last night. [grin]

                  1. I’m totally stealing it. Fab lawyer, getting sand in her pumps because desert, lippy giant tank giving he a hard time? Oh yeah.

  18. Laura explained very well why we can’t have backyard “Rocket-ship Galileo” events and why only rich friends of the regime can do real rocket launches.

    However, I don’t think any of our competition gives a flipping flapjack about the rules.

    1. As I recall one of the details in Galileo was an attempt to delay their launch with bogus objections to the paperwork.

      1. No, that was an attempt by a bogus process server to “protect the children.” I think that you are confusing that incident with the bogus FAA inspector (IIRC) who attempted to destroy the Galileo by planting plastic explosives…

      2. IIRC, the fellas in ‘Destination Moon’ had to expedite their departure because the regulators were at the company gates, mouths foaming and cease and desist orders in their hot little hands.

  19. So the gist of this is; if you launch a spacecraft without FAA approval, you’d: (A) Better have some very deep pockets to pay the fines, (B) Better not be coming back to Earth, or (C) Better have enough fire power or defensive capability to demonstrate that you’re the one in control, not the FAA or the U.S.

      1. Yeah, but I’ve been hanging around with my wife too many decades. She’s never waited well, and my patient wait time has decreased too. Half thought of using that for yesterday’s vignette; but the disclaimer would have put me way over 50 words.

      2. how probable is it? one percent probability of success is not impossible but quite unlikely.

        1. Very possible. If you can launch a rocket you can get a license. The part that might be tricky is where you can launch it from, but from what I saw, most launch operators don’t want to launch from Manhattan and they know it. The big companies have long used the Air Forces ranges on the coasts and go there, and those sites can satisfy the risk criteria. Spaceport America in New Mexico offers a vast expanse of unpopulated area for suborbital launch inland. If you want to see a simplified version of the risk criteria, check out 14 CFR part 420, which applies to launch site licensing. If you want explanation of the legal infrastructure, see here (which does have links but this was before I started bolding the links):

    1. (D) Alternative documentation of sufficient persuasive capacity to convince relevant officials to waive all penalties.

      It isn’t blackmail if they don’t dare call you on it. (Well, it is still blackmail, but as prosecution would require revelation of evidence …)

  20. What about reusable rockets? is there a launch application required per launch or is there a blanket certifcation?

    1. Reusable rockets need a license.

      If you are new or if you are proposing a new design, you will likely get a license just for one launch or a specific number of launches. If you are proposing to launch the same design over and over again, regardless of whether it’s reusable or expendable, you can get a 5 year license for any number of launches.

  21. This is one reason why Circum-Terra –in Sarah’s Darkship universe– was so sparsely populated.

  22. When you decide that’s too hard, the FAA will be there for you.
    Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the LOHAN.

      1. Perhaps I should have summarized.

        Brit boffins seeking to launch rocket-powered UAV from helium balloon are lured to the US by spaceport offering help with the FAA paperwork. No such help is forthcoming and neither is permission to launch.

        Has been stuck in “waiting for permission from the FAA” mode for over a year now.

        1. I noticed they gave up on England and Europe already. Because, as hard as it is to imagine, there are worse things than the FAA.

          1. Note, however, that they did make a test flight in Europe sans rocket engine. The thing that is making things difficult is one biggish model rocket motor.

            1. Does it fit within the definition of “amateur”?

              Amateur rocket means an unmanned rocket that:

              (1) Is propelled by a motor or motors having a combined total impulse of 889,600 Newton-seconds (200,000 pound-seconds) or less; and

              (2) Cannot reach an altitude greater than 150 kilometers (93.2 statute miles) above the earth’s surface.


              1. The two engines mentioned in their summary are a P54-3G and a J140-P, both of which would be well below the amateur rocketry limits.

                1. They might want to talk to the folks at link textJP Aerospace.

                  They do the balloon thing fairly regularly. They’ve also done Rockoon shots in the past, and intend to do more at some point. They’ve presumably done some hoop-jumping.

              2. You also have to get permission from the FAA for amateur launches so a NOTAM can be issued to keep planes out of the launch area.

                Ky Michelson has had a couple of launches go over 70 miles up.

        2. Ah! Someone is trying to use that cheat that was “Mission Tomorrow.” Cool; groovy cool.

  23. People will renounce their citizenship to do business outside the US. They are already doing so just to be able to have bank accounts where they live and work in foreign countries.
    Somebody will provide a welcoming space business environment. That will be a loss for the US, but they don’t seem to care. For some reason politicians believe they can force people to do anything and not suffer unintended consequences.
    New Jersey just raised personal income tax again and ONE person leaving for Florida cost them about $300,000,000 in taxes. Any number of people could have told them it would happen but it seems a mystery to them how such a thing could happen.
    Eventually they will try to tell you you can’t leave. They are steadily raising the fees to do so. I always said when they build the border walls the guns will point IN.

    1. Eventually they will try to tell you you can’t leave.

      Schwartzenegger floated the idea of a California exit tax.

      1. They also floated the idea of a tax on satellites that flew over the state of California.

      2. They gave up on that in favor of claiming you must pay CA state income tax on any income earned in CA, including pension payouts, whether you still live there or not.

        1. because a lot of government employees leave the state after earning their two state pensions.

    2. It is instructive to imagine how much money the City and State of New York lost when Rush Limbaugh moved to Florida.

    3. I figure putting fees on moving from one state to another would be an infringement on the federal commerce clause; as well as infringing on freedom of movement.

  24. So my takeaway from this is that all United Federation of Planets starships have a self-destruct mechanism, not to keep their ships out of the hands of the Klingons or to wipe out Borg infestations, but because the FAA regulations for FTS managed to survive over the centuries to be incorporated into the Federation’s space exploration charter.

    1. Which is the more dangerous infestation: Borg automata or regulations? Who do you call when you need a regulation infestation tamed? So far, civilizations and empires have fallen, and their hairbrained rules, laws, and customs have outlasted them. 😛

  25. ” If you launch from an existing spaceport you won’t have to do too much work for an environmental review. If you go from a new place of your own, you might be out there counting desert tortoises before you can launch to establish an environmental baseline. You have been warned.”

    And suddenly I understand how California believes they can get away with taxing launches.

  26. t this point, your eyes may be glazing over. You might think to yourself that you will incorporate as a foreign entity and go launch somewhere else like they did in Firestar, and get away from all of this. Not so fast. Firestar was alternate future history, and the people who administer the dread ITAR, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, will want to take a look at you if you try to provide your launch technology to a foreign entity, which is what you have become if you incorporate in another country.

    Huh. This is the first post on Mrs. Hoyt’s blog that’s tempted me to renounce U.S. citizenship. And to be glad I’m not a rocket engineer. Nice two-fer.

  27. This isn’t occur to me until late, but why should space launches have to be licensed at all? Various regulations I can see, but licensing? It looks like an agency wanting to claim more for bureaucrats. Another example is licensing drones, and there the FAA is going to run into what the FCC did with CB radios.

    Yes, I know that there’s a law, for space launches at least. I’m not sure about drone licensing. But why does there need to be one? It’s not as though sub orbit is clogged with launches.

    1. Because what would happen if a missile was launched from North Korea? NORAD assumes it is NK government owned, armed, and hostile. Because they have to assume that. Therefore, from the NK government’s perspective, they can’t have stuff launching from their territory if they don’t have full control over where, when and what gets launched.

      The Russians and the Chinese assume the very same thing about stuff getting launched from the USA. Therefore, it is reasonable and necessary that launches over a certain size be licensed. That controls when and where and what. You don’t want the Enemy going to DefCon 3 over a weather balloon.

      It is not reasonable or necessary that the licensing process require a team of lawyers and a million dollars to go through, nor that it should take years. That’s where government always seems to fail.

    2. For space launch, the Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention (also a treaty) would make the U.S. government liable for launches from U.S. soil, so the government feels it has an interest in launches taking place without putting it on the hook financially. The insurance mandates are part of making sure the launch operator is ready to shoulder any liability burden, too. For safety, the big ELVs carry a lot of fuel, and if something goes wrong, particularly early in flight, there’s the potential for massive explosive yield. That’s the safety rationale. Then, there’s a part of the Outer Space Treaty that requires each signatory nation to supervise and authorize the activities of its nationals in outer space. That may have played a role, too, with such a dangerous activity looking ripe for oversight. Oral history has it that the space license was meant to be lighter than an aircraft certification.

      1. “Then, there’s a part of the Outer Space Treaty that requires each signatory nation to supervise and authorize the activities of its nationals in outer space.”

        If you are already in orbit, it is much easier to drop stuff than push it higher. A shipping container full of rocks could land perty well anywhere you liked, whenever you liked.

        An answer like “hey, we did not know the guy was crazy” after a national of Country A drops a box of rocks on the dictator of Country B is not usually sufficient in international relations, or so I would imagine.

  28. Ok, so now I know a bunch of the laws to violate, if I can ever get back to this story.

    How likely is the US to send a task force to stop you if you set up shop in another country (in a REALLY big way) and flip them the bird?

    1. How long have the Norks and the Chinese been launching stuff and flipping the USA the bird?

      1. In the scenario I am envisioning, the launching conglomerate would be able to stop a subload of missiles, unless they went for a full-on “ladder-down*” type of nuclear bombardment on a foreign nation.

        * For those unfamiliar with this method of defense against anti-missile fire, the concept involves a multi-missile launch, where the missiles follow one another at a great enough distance to be safe from each other’s explosions. The first one detonates at a distance assumed to be safe from the enemy’s missile defense systems. The next one flies through the first explosion and detonates closer than the first one. The rest follow in like fashion until they can reach low enough to be effective.

  29. This is why the lingua franca of space colonization will not be english.

        1. It isn’t really funny because it’s probably happened. I was in a panel on the commercial space possibilities at the Heinlein Centennial convention in 2005, and EVERY company there said one of the biggest obstacles to getting to space was that there was 100,000 feet of FAA jurisdiction in the way.

  30. Well, yes you DO need FAA paperwork to launch model rockets. At least, I and my friends did in the early 1960’s after an article in the Kansas City Star about our rocket club and the launches we were conducting at a farm south of K.C. in Stanley, Kansas (back then, a sleepy little burg, now surrounded by suburbs). The article told about a planned launch day with multiple launches we were going to have in a month or so. Next thing we know, we were contacted by the local FAA office and told we needed to file a flight plan for our launches. Which we did, with their help. Then they sent out a NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) to avoid that farm/launch site. That day, we had all kinds of light planes flying over – I think the NOTAM got people interested in seeing what was going on.

    Back then, the model rocket industry was fairly new. We had started building actual amateur rockets after reading “Rocket Manual for Amateurs” (I still have a copy). But then switched to the new and safer stuff. Estes Industries wasn’t alone. We bought big motors (“F” engines?) with 30 and 40 lbs of thrust (don’t remember the other specs) from Coaster Corporation in Texas for about a dollar each, if I remember. Great fun!

    1. Totally cool. Yes, you still need some paperwork if your amateur rocket is of a certain size and most particularly if you are near an airport. However, you don’t need a launch license for an amateur rocket.
      Our office picnic for a few years consisted of taking our families out to Goddard and launching the Estes model rockets we built with our kids. My sons loved it.

      1. we’re still trying to figure out if we have to notify the ‘airport’ for our drone. Maps tell us conflicting things.

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