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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)

Operator Licenses and Permits
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)

Launch and reentry licenses are vehicle specific and authorizes you to conduct one or more launches or reentries having the same operational parameters of one type of launch or reentry vehicle operating at one launch or reentry site. The license identifies, by name or mission, each activity authorized under the license. Your authorization to operate terminates when you complete all launches or reentries authorized by the license or the expiration date stated in the license, whichever occurs first.

Differences between types of launch vehicles and launch operator licenses:

Expendable launch system or expendable launch vehicle (ELV) can be launched only once, after which its components are either destroyed during reentry or discarded in space.

Reusable launch vehicle includes the recovery of some or all of the component stages.

Launch or reentry operator license authorizes you to conduct one or more launches or reentries having the same operational parameters of one type of launch or reentry vehicle operating at one launch or reentry site. The license identifies, by name or mission, each activity authorized under the license

Launch or reentry operator license authorizes you to conduct launches or reentries from one launch or reentry site within a range of operational parameters of launch or reentry vehicles from the same family of vehicles transporting specified classes of payloads or performing specified activities. An operator license remains in effect for two to five years from the date it is issued.

The key difference between an operator license and a launch- or reentry-specific license is that a launch- or reentry-specific license licenses only a specific launch or reentry activity. A launch or reentry operator license will allow an operator to perform multiple launches or reentries of the same or similar type.

Launch Site Safety Assessment updates

A launch site safety assessment (LSSA) means an FAA assessment of a federal launch range to determine if the range meets FAA safety regulations since they were first published in 2006. A difference between range practice and FAA regulations is documented in the LSSA. As some federal launch range practices change over time, a record of these changes is tabulated and maintained in the "Launch Site Safety re-Assessment Matrix." The bundled package here is comprised of three documents: the introductory LSSA overview and update, the LSSA re-assessment matrix itself, with its identified changes in federal range practices, requirements and the FAA's summarized determinations, and lastly the FAA's review of some of those identified changes for determinations of equivalent levels of safety.

Looking for additional or more specific resources? Search Resources

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. The FAA currently has 180 days to make a license determination.

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). 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 decision.

Please check the Regulations Page and Guidance Page and Advisory Circulars for additional information.

Reusable and Expendable Launch Vehicle 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.

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

Procedures for completing the Policy Review are described in 14 CFR Part 431.25 for Reusable Launch Vehicles and in 14 CFR Part 415.21-Part 415.27 (PDF) for Expendable Launch Vehicles.

Please check the Regulations Page and Guidance Page and search "AST", Status "All" for additional Advisory Circulars and additional information.

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