Commercial Space Transportation Activities

Wednesday, October 4, 2023


The FAA is responsible for ensuring protection of the public, property, national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch and reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation. The Office of Commercial Space Transportation manages the agency’s licensing and regulatory work as well as a variety of other space-related programs and initiatives. 

Public safety is at the core of the FAA licensing or permitting process; of the safety inspections conducted before, during and after a launch or reentry; and of the investigation and corrective actions following a mishap event.

Launch, Reentry and Spaceport Licenses 

An FAA license is required for any launch or reentry, or the operation of any launch or reentry site, by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world, or by any individual or entity within the U.S. 

  • An FAA license is not required for space activities the government carries out for the government, such as some NASA or Department of Defense launches.
  • Key components of a license evaluation include, as appropriate, reviews on policy, payload, safety, airspace integration, financial responsibility and environmental impacts

Experimental Permits

An FAA experimental permit can be issued for reusable suborbital rockets for research and development to test new design concepts, new equipment, or new operating techniques; compliance with requirements to obtain a license; and the training of crew to obtain a license.

  • An experimental permit cannot be used for the purpose of carrying any property or human being for compensation or hire.

Safety Oversight

The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations. Safety inspectors administer a compliance and enforcement program to ensure licensed or permitted commercial space operators meet all statutory and regulatory requirements. 

  • The FAA performs inspections for licensed or permitted operations and activities within the U.S., foreign countries and international waters.
  • The FAA can suspend or revoke any license or permit or issue fines when a commercial space operator is not in compliance.
  • When a launch or reentry mishap occurs, the FAA oversees the investigation to determine the root cause and identify corrective actions the operator must implement.
  • The FAA will not allow a return to flight operations until it determines that any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety or any other aspect of the operator’s license or permit.


Within the Office of Commercial Space Transportation is the Office of Spaceports. It is responsible for the development of policies that promote infrastructure improvements and strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. spaceports, supports launch and reentry site licensing activities, provides technical assistance and guidance to existing and proposed new spaceports, and promotes U.S. spaceports domestically and globally.

  • There are three basic types of spaceports in the U.S.:  FAA-licensed, U.S. government owned and Exclusive Use (private). View spaceport map.

Commercial Human Space Flight Occupant Safety

Congress, with few exceptions, limits the FAA's regulatory oversight of the health and safety of commercial human spaceflight occupants. The FAA issues commercial space licenses, verifies launch or reentry vehicles meant to carry humans operate as intended and provides regulation of flight crew qualifications and training. Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety.

  • Commercial space operators are required to notify flight crew and spaceflight participants in writing that the U.S. government has not certified the launch or reentry vehicle as safe for carrying humans. 
  • Commercial spaceflight crew and participants engage in spaceflight operations through informed consent and sign paperwork acknowledging the mission hazards and risks, the vehicle safety record and the overall safety record of all launch and reentry vehicles.