Vehicle Operator Licenses & Permits

If a commercial space vehicle does not exceed 150km and has a thrust less than 200,000 lb.-sec, this is classified as amateur rocketry and is not licensed by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation and are not regulated under 14 CFR Chapter III; they are regulated under 14 CFR Chapter I, by the FAA Air Traffic Organization.

Advisory Circular: Anomaly reporting and corrective action for a reusable suborbital rocket operating under an experimental permit (PDF)

Calculation of Safety Clear Zones for Experimental Permits (PDF)

FAA/USSPACECOM Launch Notification Form (PDF)

Vehicle Operator Licenses and Permits
REGULATIONS (CFR Link) TITLE APPLICATION CHECKLIST (MS EXCEL)
14 CFR Part 413 License Application Procedures Part 413 License Application Procedures Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 415 / 417 Expendable Launch License Part 415 Launch License (other than RLV) Checklist (MS Excel)
Part 417 Launch Safety (ELV) Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 431 Reusable Launch Vehicle Part 431 Launch and Reentry of RLV Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 435 Launch and Reentry Vehicle Part 435 Reentry of a Reentry Vehicle Other than RLV Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 437 Experimental Permit Part 437 Experimental Permits Checklist (MS Excel)
14 CFR Part 450 Streamlined Launch and Reentry License Requirements Part 450: Pre-Application Consultation Checklist (PDF)
Part 450: Application Compliance Checklist (MS Excel)

Part 450 introduced a vehicle operator license that replaced launch and reentry licenses under parts 415, 431, and 435. Legacy licenses issued under these parts will expire no later than March 9, 2022. Unlike the various licenses under the legacy regulations, a vehicle operator license may authorize launch, reentry, or both.

A vehicle operator license authorizes launch, which includes the flight of a launch vehicle and pre- and post-flight ground operations as follows:

  1. Launch begins when hazardous pre-flight operations commence at a U.S. launch site that may pose a threat to the public. Hazardous pre-flight operations that may pose a threat to the public include pressurizing or loading of propellants into the vehicle, operations involving a fueled launch vehicle, the transfer of energy necessary to initiate flight, or any hazardous activity preparing the vehicle for flight. Hazardous pre-flight operations do not include the period between the end of the previous launch and launch vehicle reuse, when the vehicle is in a safe and dormant state.
  2. At a non-U.S. launch site, launch begins at ignition or at the first movement that initiates flight, whichever occurs earlier.
  3. Launch ends when any of the following events occur:
    1. For an orbital launch of a vehicle without a reentry of the vehicle, launch ends after the licensee's last exercise of control over its vehicle on orbit, after vehicle component impact or landing on Earth, after activities necessary to return the vehicle or component to a safe condition on the ground after impact or landing, or after activities necessary to return the site to a safe condition, whichever occurs latest;
    2. For an orbital launch of a vehicle with a reentry of the vehicle, launch ends after deployment of all payloads, upon completion of the vehicle's first steady-state orbit if there is no payload deployment, after vehicle component impact or landing on Earth, after activities necessary to return the vehicle or component to a safe condition on the ground after impact or landing, or after activities necessary to return the site to a safe condition, whichever occurs latest;
    3. For a suborbital launch that includes a reentry, launch ends after reaching apogee;
    4. For a suborbital launch that does not include a reentry, launch ends after vehicle or vehicle component impact or landing on Earth, after activities necessary to return the vehicle or vehicle component to a safe condition on the ground after impact or landing, or after activities necessary to return the site to a safe condition, whichever occurs latest.
  4. Scope of reentry. A vehicle operator license authorizes reentry. Reentry includes activities conducted in Earth orbit or outer space to determine reentry readiness and that are critical to ensuring public health and safety and the safety of property during reentry flight. Reentry also includes activities necessary to return the reentry vehicle, or vehicle component, to a safe condition on the ground after impact or landing.
  5. Application requirements. An applicant must identify pre- and post-flight ground operations at a U.S. launch site sufficient for the Administrator to determine the scope of activities authorized under the license.

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Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 (CSLAA), enacted on December 23, 2004, directs the Secretary of Transportation and, through delegations, FAA, to establish an experimental permit regime for developmental reusable suborbital rockets. Under the CSLAA, FAA can issue experimental permits rather than licenses for the launch of and reentry of reusable suborbital rockets. Previously, FAA could only issue a license for these operations.

When do I need a permit?

  • Congress directed that experimental permits could be issued for:
    • Research and development to test new design concepts, new equipment, or new operating techniques;
    • Showing compliance with requirements as part of the process for obtaining a license; or
    • Crew training prior to obtaining a license for a launch or reentry using the design of the rocket for which the permit would be issued.

How long does it take to get a permit?

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

Issuing experimental permits is a Federal action subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq) and other applicable environmental laws, regulations, and Executive Orders to consider and document the potential environmental effects associated with proposed reusable suborbital rocket launches or reentries. NEPA requires that Federal agencies consider the impacts of their activities on the natural and human environment. FAA Order 1050.1E, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, describes FAA's procedures for implementing NEPA. Specifically, FAA Order 1050.1E requires that the FAA decision-making process facilitate public involvement by including consideration of the effects of the proposed action and alternatives; avoidance or minimization of adverse effects attributable to the proposed action; and restoration and enhancement of resources, and environmental quality of the nation. These requirements will be considered in FAA's licensing permitting decision.

Please check the Legislation & Polices, Regulations & Guidance Page and in Advisory Circulars for additional information.

Vehicle Operator Policy Review and Approval

The FAA reviews a license application to determine whether it presents any issues affecting U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States. A major element of the policy review is the interagency review of the proposal. An interagency review allows government agencies to examine the proposed operation from their unique perspectives. The FAA consults with the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and other federal agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that are authorized to address national security, foreign policy, or international obligation issues. The policy review under part 450 is little changed from that under the legacy requirements. Procedures for completing the Policy Review are described in 14 CFR Part 450.41 for Vehicle Operator License.

In its license application, an applicant must—

  1. Identify the model, type, and configuration of any vehicle proposed for launch or reentry by the applicant;
  2. Describe the vehicle by characteristics that include individual stages, their dimensions, type and amounts of all propellants, and maximum thrust;
  3. Identify foreign ownership of the applicant as follows:
    1. For a sole proprietorship or partnership, identify all foreign ownership;
    2. For a corporation, identify any foreign ownership interests of 10 percent or more; and
    3. For a joint venture, association, or other entity, identify any participating foreign entities; and
  4. Identify the proposed vehicle flight profile, including:
    1. Launch or reentry site, including any contingency abort locations;
    2. Flight azimuths, trajectories, and associated ground tracks and instantaneous impact points for the duration of the licensed activity, including any contingency abort profiles;
    3. Sequence of planned events or maneuvers during flight;
    4. Normal impact or landing areas for all mission hardware; and
    5. For each orbital mission, the range of intermediate and final orbits of each vehicle upper stage and their estimated orbital lifetimes.

Safety Reviews

The Safety Review is the principal component of vehicle operator license evaluations. In general, the safety review for licensing consists of evaluating the applicant's safety organization, system safety processes, and flight safety analysis. Quantitative risk criteria for launch, reentry, and vehicle disposal are enumerated §450.101. A safety review determination becomes part of the licensing record on which the FAA bases licensing determinations.

14 CFR part 450 allows an applicant may submit its application for a safety review in modules using an incremental approach approved by the FAA as specified in § 450.31(c) and § 450.33. For additional guidance, refer to Draft Guidance for Incremental Review of a Vehicle Operator License Application Under Part 450.

An applicant may submit data related to the policy review, safety review, and payload review together as a single package or separately.

Last updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2022