April 6, 2007
To facilitate research, development and testing of new design concepts, including vehicles that are intended to carry passengers into space, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 6, 2007, issued regulations governing the issuance of experimental permits for the launching for reusable suborbital rockets. Final Rule- Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets (PDF) - Sample Experimental Permit (PDF)
The goal is to streamline the launch authorization process during a launch vehicle’s development phase.
Once issued, a single experimental permit will cover multiple launch vehicles of a particular design and allow an unlimited number of launches. The FAA will identify the type of design changes that may be made to a launch vehicle without invalidating the permit. The one-year permit is renewable following an FAA review. None of the test flights covered by an experimental permit can be conducted for compensation or for hire.
The new rules establish criteria for the physical area in which a launch vehicle with an experimental permit can operate. The area, among other things, must be large enough to contain planned trajectories. It cannot contain nor be adjacent to a densely populated area.
As part of the application for a permit, a vehicle developer will need to provide a program description, a flight test plan, and operational safety documentation, including a hazard analysis and a plan for response to a mishap.
Mandated by Congress in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, the experimental permit rule represents another step forward for commercial human space flight. Final regulations for crew and space flight participants were issued in December of 2006.