What is the FAA’s Role in Commercial Space?

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) licenses and regulates U.S. commercial space launch activities including launch and reentry of vehicles and operation of non-federal launch and reentry sites authorized by Executive Order 12465 and Title 51 U.S. Code, Subtitle V, Chapter 509 (formerly the Commercial Space Launch Act). Title 51 and the Executive Order also direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial launches. The FAA’s mission is to license and regulate commercial launch and reentry operations and non-federal launch sites to protect public health and safety, the safety of property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.

The FAA licenses launches or reentries carried out inside the U.S. and by U.S. persons (which includes U.S. corporations) inside or outside the United States. The FAA does not license launches or reentries the U.S. Government carries out for the Government (such as those owned and operated by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Department of Defense). Amateur-class rockets do not require a FAA license or permit.

To accomplish its mission, the FAA performs the following major functions:

  • Maintains an effective regulatory framework for commercial space transportation activities,
  • Provides guidance to prospective commercial operators on how to comply with regulatory requirements for obtaining an authorization and operating safely,
  • Evaluates applications for licenses, experimental permits, and safety approvals for launch and reentry operations and related commercial space transportation activities,
  • Evaluates applications for licenses for launch and reentry site operations,
  • Monitors and enforces regulatory compliance through safety inspections of launches, reentries, sites, and other regulated commercial space activities,
  • Provides U.S. Government oversight of investigations associated with the mishap of an FAA authorized launch or reentry,
  • Facilitates the integration of commercial space launch and reentry operations into other modes of transportation including the National Airspace System (NAS) by establishing appropriate hazard areas and limits to ensure the protection of the public,
  • Coordinates research into the safety, environmental, and operational implications of new technologies and the evolving commercial space transportation industry,
  • Conducts outreach to the commercial space industry by hosting working groups and conferences,
  • Collaborates with Government partners, such as the Department of Defense and NASA to assure consistent approaches to regulations, policy, and standards, and
  • Conducts outreach to international counterparts to promote the U.S. regulatory framework across the world.

Source: FAA Aerospace Forecast FY22

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