FAA releases experimental permit regulations

The FAA announced today that it has formally released regulations governing experimental permits for suborbital RLVs. Congress gave the FAA authority to grant such permits (analagous to experimental airworthiness certificates in aviation) in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. These regulations formally codify how such permits will be issued, although FAA has already issued permits to both Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin prior to the release of these regulations. I have not had an opportunity yet to review the final regulations; the FAA did release a fact sheet about commercial human spaceflight in general today, along with a press release, which I have included below:

To facilitate research, development and testing of new design concepts for commercial vehicles intended to carry people into space, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today issued regulations governing the issuance of experimental permits for the launching of reusable suborbital rockets.

“These rules represent another step forward for commercial human space flight,” said FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. “To help move this exciting industry from concept to reality, our goal is to streamline and facilitate the licensing process for flight testing under the experimental permit while maintaining public safety.”

A critical component of any reusable launch vehicle development program is flight testing. To help facilitate those tests, the allowable processing time for issuing a permit determination is 120 days compared to 180 days for a license.

A single experimental permit will cover multiple vehicles of a particular design and allow an unlimited number of launches. The FAA will identify the type of design changes that may be made without invalidating the permit. The one-year permit is renewable following an FAA review. None of the test flights covered by an experimental permit can carry passengers for compensation or for hire.

The new rules establish criteria for the physical area in which a vehicle with an experimental permit can operate. The area, among other things, must be large enough to contain planned trajectories. It cannot contain or be adjacent to a densely populated area.

As part of the application for a permit, a vehicle developer will need to provide a program description, a flight test plan, and operational safety documentation, including a hazard analysis and a plan for response to a mishap.

The new rules were mandated by the Congress in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. Final regulations for crew and space flight participants were issued in December of 2006.

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