Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 (CSLAA), enacted on December 23, 2004, directed the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA through delegations, to establish an experimental permit regime for developmental reusable suborbital rockets or reusable launch vehicle. Under the CSLAA, FAA has the authority to issue experimental permits instead of licenses for the launch and reentry of reusable suborbital rockets or reusable launch vehicles for limited purposes. Previously, FAA could only issue a license for these operations. 

Experimental Permits

14 CFR Part 413 License Application Procedures Part 413 License Application Procedures Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 437 Experimental Permit Part 437 Experimental Permits Checklist (MS Excel)

When do I need an experimental permit?

An experimental permit is an optional authorization designed for developmental reusable suborbital rockets or reusable launch vehicles that may be issued in place of a vehicle operator license for the sole purpose of:

•    Research and development to test design concepts, equipment, or operating techniques;
•    Showing compliance with requirements as part of the process for obtaining a license; or
•    Crew training for a launch or reentry using the design of the rocket or vehicle for which the permit would be issued.

No person may operate a reusable suborbital rocket or reusable launch vehicle under an experimental permit for carrying any property or human being for compensation or hire. Operations under an experimental permit are not eligible for government indemnification. 

Operations under a license allow an operator to receive compensation or hire and are eligible for government indemnification in accordance with the 51 USC § 50915. For more information on vehicle licensing, please use our Commercial Space Transportation Assistance Tool.

How long does it take to get an experimental permit?

The CSLAA of 2004 directs FAA to make a determination on issuing an experimental permit within 120 days of receiving a complete application. 

Pre-Application Consultation Guidance Materials

For an overview of the experimental permitting process including the pre-application consultation process, see the Getting Started with Licensing page. Below are specific pre-application tools for Experimental Permit applications.

•    Experimental Permit Program (PDF)
•    Sample Experimental Permit Application (PDF)
•    Calculation of Safety Clear Zones for Experimental Permits (PDF)
•    Guidance on Informing Crew and Space Flight Participants of Risk (PDF)

Environmental Reviews

The FAA analyzes the environmental impacts of proposed permitted actions, including the issuance of experimental permits for suborbital reusable rockets or reusable launch vehicles. For more information, please see the Environmental page.

Financial Responsibilities

Financial responsibilities for permitted and licensed launch or reentry activities are described on the Financial Responsibilities page.

Last updated: Friday, January 26, 2024