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Space Science

SpaceX Gets First Private FAA Space Reentry License 108

Posted by kdawson
from the interpanetary-driver's-license dept.
coondoggie sends in a Network World story that begins "Space Exploration Technologies (Space X) got the first-ever Federal Aviation Administration license allowing the reentry to Earth of a privately developed spacecraft. The license was needed because the Space X Dragon space capsule is scheduled to launch atop Space X's Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 7 and return to earth. The Launch of the rocket had already been approved by the FAA. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation noted that it has licensed over 200 successful launches."
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SpaceX Gets First Private FAA Space Reentry License

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  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrOctogon (865301) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @01:59PM (#34320388)
    You need a license to reenter earth? I can imagine needing a license to create the rockets and stuff to get up there in the first place, but once you're up there won't gravity bring you down? Isn't that the law??
    • by JamesP (688957)

      Well, at least this means that, if you never left earth in the first place, you can enter it.

      It would be disappointing if aliens had to get a license to enter our planet...

      • And if they didn't... I can imagine an alien craft failing to respond on the appropriate emergency frequencies and ending up like Iran Air Flight 655 [wikipedia.org].
        • by Shakrai (717556)

          Something tells me that a craft capable of traveling interstellar distances wouldn't have too much to worry about from chemical rockets armed with chemical explosive warheads.

          • I don't think there are many chemical rockets armed with chemical explosive warheads in interstellar space.

            • by Shakrai (717556)

              Read the comment I was replying to, he was implying that a visiting alien craft in our atmosphere would be shot down by SAMs.

              • I did read it. And I stand by my point: A space ship built to withstand interstellar travel conditions doesn't need to be built to withstand explosive weapons.

                • by Shakrai (717556)

                  Who said anything about withstanding? If it has the acceleration capacity required to achieve orbit and travel across the interstellar void it should have enough acceleration to outrun a SAM.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by camperdave (969942)

                    If it has the acceleration capacity required to achieve orbit and travel across the interstellar void it should have enough acceleration to outrun a SAM.

                    Not even close. It's a case of marathon vs sprint. A rocket that can accelerate at 3 or 4G for 8 minutes can get into orbit. However, it cannot outrun a SAM that accelerates at 10-15G.

                    • My bird would not even arm its warhead unless she hit 10Gs at launch and that was on a motor designed in the '50s.

                    • A rocket that can accelerate at 3 or 4G for 8 minutes can get into orbit. However, it cannot outrun a SAM that accelerates at 10-15G.

                      Pardon me, but I think you are oversimplifying things here by only focusing on one aspect of rocket technology you are familiar with. Don't forget the GP did also say "and travel across the interstellar void" - I think his intention was to imply that the technology involved (as it would have to be) is sufficiently advanced beyond anything we have even come close to employing.

                      Not to mention the fact that we have quite terrestrial aircraft already that can outsmart and/or maneuver SAMs.

                    • by sznupi (719324)

                      Not to mention the fact that we have quite terrestrial aircraft already that can outsmart and/or maneuver SAMs.

                      But it doesn't work like in the works of fiction, too. Properly locked-on barrage of missiles, facing no countermeasures / fired on an unsuspecting target is almost a case of no contest.

                      While technology involved would be impressive, it still has to work within constraints of physics and practicality.

                  • by sznupi (719324)

                    Look at the parameters of this missile [wikipedia.org] (yt video of launch there, too). There is no justification for such performance in the case of spacecraft.

          • by fractoid (1076465)

            Something tells me that a craft capable of traveling interstellar distances wouldn't have too much to worry about from chemical rockets armed with chemical explosive warheads.

            Something tells me that a craft capable of travelling intercontinental distances wouldn't have too much to worry about from spears armed with sharpened points.

            Captain Cook may disagree, however briefly.

        • by sznupi (719324)

          Flight 655 wasn't about failing to respond to appropriate emergency frequencies; they were hailed inappropriately.

    • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:03PM (#34320446)
      Heh, it also turns out that the US is directly liable for anything put up there by US businesses. And SpaceX will have to pass through the lower atmosphere (which is why the FAA reentry license is required).
    • It's the FAA, what did you expect?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927)

        I realize you're trying to make a joke, but having met many of the people in the FAA Office of Commercial Space, and as someone who cares about seeing an economically sustainable space system develop, I'm damn glad those people are there.

        While it may not be as flashy as the guys actually building the capsule that will re-enter, creating a solid legal framework for licensing and regulating commercial launches and re-entries is absolutely critical for getting anything thats not a pork-filled government projec

        • having met many of the people in the FAA Office of Commercial Space, and as someone who cares about seeing an economically sustainable space system develop, I'm damn glad those people are there.

          It just more bureaucracy and big government. Of course big businesses like it because it reduces their competition.

          creating a solid legal framework for licensing and regulating commercial launches and re-entries is absolutely critical for getting anything thats not a pork-filled government project into space. Otherw

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Nyeerrmm (940927)

            The biggest risk to a company like SpaceX or Sierra Nevada/SpaceDev is not having to get licenses, its being FUD'd to death by the likes of ATK, Marshall Spaceflight Center, and their personal attack senators, Hatch and Shelby.

            I wouldn't call SpaceX a 'big business,' at least not in their field. Their established competitor for manned re-entry vehicles is NASA. Having a set procedure to obtain clearance for re-entry makes it so that instead of fuzzy measures of 'experience' a new company can simply say "H

            • I wouldn't call SpaceX a 'big business,' at least not in their field.

              SpaceX isn't much of an established company in the field but it does have big and wealthy names behind it.

              having a defined procedure increases the ability of new companies to compete by decreasing their liability.

              HAHA!!! Insurance exists for risk. There are also places away from population centers where launches can be done. All licensing does is reduce competition. Ask all those who homesteaded the airwaves early last century. When l

              • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

                Thats why the regulations are still in flux. FAA-AST is working with the upcoming companies to avoid unintended consequences, they're not working in a vacuum.

                Do you honestly think the military would allow a Falcon 9 to launch from the Cape, without having some documentation of how they plan to re-enter? This way appropriate notices can be given. Though I've heard many complaints from private space folks about various regulations they have to deal with, FAA licensing has never been on the list. Until ITA

                • FAA-AST is working with the upcoming companies to avoid unintended consequences, they're not working in a vacuum.

                  Yea, and possibly to limit competition.

                  Do you honestly think the military would allow a Falcon 9 to launch from the Cape, without having some documentation of how they plan to re-enter?

                  One, that is a separate issue. Sure the owner of a facility has the right to make requirements for the use of the facility. But the FAA does not own the Cape or it's launching facilities, the US Airforce owns par

              • by robot256 (1635039)

                Ever hear of the unintended consequences [wikipedia.org]?

                Yes, everything has them. Even not enacting any regulation at all has them, like monopolies abusing their powers to stifle competition and drive up prices. Or in this case, huge insurance premiums because there are no rules shielding them from random litigation.

                Licensing and regulations should only come into being after a problem is identified, and then address that problem.

                Are you suggesting we start regulating commercial reentries after the first space tourists get blown out of the sky by a missile defense system? That's why they're developing the rules now, so they can identify the problem before it becomes a prob

                • Yes, everything has them. Even not enacting any regulation at all has them, like monopolies abusing their powers to stifle competition and drive up prices.

                  Except it was government that created those monopolies. Governments gave telephone companies exclusive rights of way or easements [wikipedia.org] to string phone lines. The same applies to cable and power companies. But perhaps the biggest monopoly is patents.

                  Or in this case, huge insurance premiums because there are no rules shielding them from random litigation.

                  Larg

                  • by matfud (464184)

                    Perhaps you just made the point? An american ship fired a missile at a comercial passenger plane and killed 290 people. Bad comunications and no idea what the plane was. FAA will at least provide information about the flight

                    • An american ship fired a missile at a comercial passenger plane and killed 290 people. Bad comunications and no idea what the plane was. FAA will at least provide information about the flight

                      That was my exact point, the FAA can be an information clearing house.

                      Falcon

                    • by matfud (464184)

                      How did they get that confused with an f14

                    • They, the Navy, couldn't have. I'm tempted to say it was deliberate but I'd think there were too many people involved for it to continue to be a secret. The fact is though is the US government or politicians have done far worse.

                      I don't recall who but someone up-thread told me they could tell me things the US government has done that would shock me. That's hardly likely.

                      I don't know why but it took me several minutes for me to find some references such as this one: deploying to Eadt Timor [slashdot.org] dated December

          • It just more bureaucracy

            You say that like it's a bad thing. From wikipedia: Bureaucracy is the combined organizational structure, procedures, protocols, and set of regulations in place to manage activity. Please do enlighten with a better way to run large complex orginizations.

            • by lgw (121541)

              A thing can be both a necessary thing and a bad thing. This is often the case with war, or worse, bureaucracy.

            • You say that like it's a bad thing.

              Bureaucracies always seek to expand their power and drain resources from where they can do good.

              Please do enlighten with a better way to run large complex orginizations.

              And what large complex organizations might those be? If you mean governmental organizations, I oppose large government, and want to shrink it not expand it. With a few exceptions I also oppose large corporations, such as too big to fail banks and too big to fail auto makers.

              Falcon

              • And what large complex organizations might those be? If you mean governmental organizations, I oppose large government, and want to shrink it not expand it. With a few exceptions I also oppose large corporations, such as too big to fail banks and too big to fail auto makers.

                Problem is large and complex applies to city governments and small companies as well. You can open a store and run one without a bureaucracy. If you own 10 stores it is very unlikely you can be successful without a bureaucracy of some sort. It would be very difficult to mass produce anything without bureacracy. Hardly anything in our modern day lives could exist without bureaucracy. Are bureacracies perfect? NO. Is the federal government too big? Yes, but I don't think that's the fault of bureaucra

                • If you own 10 stores it is very unlikely you can be successful without a bureaucracy of some sort.

                  If it were me, each store manager would be responsible for that store, they would then report to me.

                  It would be very difficult to mass produce anything without bureacracy.

                  And just how many things have to be mass produced by one producer? Like I said, with a few exceptions I don't think large businesses are needed. A fab plant for semi-conductors can cost hundreds of dollars if not billions, but Apple, Dell, G

                  • Surely you will still need a bureaucracy of some sort. Are you not going to have any product consistency across your stores. Pricing? Dress Codes? Starting pay for employees? Product Placement? Vendor preferences? A return policy? If you leave it up to each manager you are going to loose a lot of benefits. Consider your liability when an employee gets fired at one store for something that's completely acceptable at another, inventory control, volume pricing, store branding. Without a bureaucracy a
                    • Are you not going to have any product consistency across your stores. Pricing? Dress Codes? Starting pay for employees? Product Placement? Vendor preferences? A return policy?

                      A bureaucracy isn't needed for that. All that's needed is standard company wide policies.

                      Regardless of how many producers there are mass production requires a consistency of supply and that requires a bureaucracy to set a minimum standards for components.

                      Let me rephrase the question, how many things need to mass produced? I already g

                    • All that's needed is standard company wide policies

                      Bureaucracy is the combined organizational structure, procedures, protocols, and set of regulations in place to manage activity. I'm not sure how company wide policies is not a bureaucracy.

                      ,

                      And can't any standards be approved by consensus?

                      Sure but if I start a business I will probably lay out rules for adopting new standards once that business is beyond a certain size. I can also ask for consensus in creating new standards but once those standards are in place it's pretty much a bureaucracy again.

                      Also from Wikipedia...

                      As opposed to adhocracy, it is often represented by standardized procedure (rule-following) that guides the execution of most or all processes within the body; formal division of powers; hierarchy; and relationships, intended to anticipate needs and improve efficiency.

                      There are downfalls to bur

                    • Are you arguing against "organizational structure, procedures, protocols, and set of regulations" or just poor implementations of it?

                      Obviously I've been using a different meaning for bureaucracy. To me one was where a bunch of different people had to "be in the loop" and had to approve this or that. One of my dictionaries defines "bureaucracy" as "excessive official routine". Another says it's a government regarded as oppressive and inflexible.

                      Falcon

        • by scsirob (246572)
          And just who gave the FAA the authority to license anything coming from space? Why do they claim any authority at all? Part of space is over my house, please submit your application for a license from me as well.
          • by jonwil (467024)

            The FAA isn't claiming jurisdiction over space. They are claiming jurisdiction over US airspace. The airspace that any space vehicle has to pass through on the way up and the way down.
            Its about making sure that when the capsule re-enters, everything that could get in its way has been moved out of the way (commercial aircraft, military aircraft etc) so it doesn't hit anything on the way down.

            • The FAA isn't claiming jurisdiction over space. They are claiming jurisdiction over US airspace. The airspace that any space vehicle has to pass through on the way up and the way down.

              This would be suprising news to most space launch operators on the planet.
              And to a good number of orbital mechanics people too :-)

              • by jonwil (467024)

                Should have thought harder, I was actually referring to vehicles launching from or landing in the USA. (comes from posting on Slashdot before I have had my first caffeine hit of the day :)

          • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

            Because its a US-based company flying out of a US military owned base, going to a largely US Ggovernment operated space station, flying a mission purchased by the US government, and re-entering into US airspace as well. Its US airspace and falls under the US governments jurisdiction -- I'd much rather the FAA be in charge of it than the military. Do you plan to set up a process for airlines to get licenses to fly over your house too?

            This is a situation of the FAA and the company working together to figure

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)

        It's the FAA, what did you expect?

        Actually, you're required to let the TSA touch your junk before you're allowed to re-enter.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      You need to submit to either the pornography machine or through-the-clothing full body cavity search just to fly across the state. I wouldn't be surprised if they required a quarantine period for re-entry. If I remember correctly, they actually did quarantine the first few astronauts.

      Gotta protect against space bugs after all

    • Well, not so much gravity as the atmosphere (drag eventually makes your orbit intersect the Earth's surface). Anyways, the license itself is reasonable enough for liability purposes (delineating who is responsible for the payload when returned), as practically all previous satellites that have reentered the atmosphere have been governmental. And this is a controlled, purposeful reentry, not a laws-of-physics demanded one.
      • by matfud (464184)

        Something coming down at high speed (mark 12 to 15) does need clearance. Just to get all the planes out of the area and then figure out where it hit the ground. I hope it does not.

        • by Muad'Dave (255648)

          ...mark 12 to 15...

          Do you mean Mach [wikipedia.org] 12 to 15, perhaps?

          This is a classic example of a Tiller's Rule violation.

          • by matfud (464184)

            Yes I do mean "Mach" :P
            I don't know much about this spacecraft so I don't know how fast it will be travelling. Telling every thing to get out of the way seams like a good idea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chairboy (88841)

      It's part of an effort to limit illegal aliens.

  • by dmomo (256005) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:00PM (#34320404) Homepage

    Like a green card system. If you outlaw "landing on Earth", only outlaws will land on Earth. That is very scary. I recommend a legal path to citizenship for our visitors.

  • So if they didn't get this license, does that mean it would never return to Earth? That the laws of physics would be put on hold until the appropriate paperwork was filed? Sorry; Just being snarky. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that any governmental organization can tell us how and when we can visit the stars.

    • by Issarlk (1429361)
      Without the need for a license, any average Joe could launch spaceships and make them land wherever after their orbital flight, causing havoc.
      • by srussia (884021)

        Without the need for a license, any average Joe could launch spaceships and make them land wherever after their orbital flight, causing havoc.

        There are already laws on "causing havoc". No harm, no foul.

        • by hedwards (940851)
          This is sort of like how in the US we now have drivers licenses and a body to coordinate air traffic. We didn't need either one when the technology popped on the scene because the likelihood of other people being hurt was pretty much non-existent.

          Space travel though is different. A trajectory that's off by only a little bit can easily result in the spacecraft breaking up over a major city. Sure it's a long shot, granted, that's not much of an issue with the technology in play, but somebody does have to m
    • Re:A license? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .selppet.> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:14PM (#34320646) Homepage Journal

      So if they didn't get this license, does that mean it would never return to Earth?

      No, it means it wouldn't leave the launch pad.

      It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that any governmental organization can tell us how and when we can visit the stars.

      Your government doesn't want to start an international incident when your flight plan knocks another government's communication satellite out of orbit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Your government doesn't want to start an international incident when your flight plan knocks another government's communication satellite out of orbit.

        Yeah, except... nobody owns space by international treaty anyway. So if a satellite malfunctions (or a space ship collides with one), legally it's like international waters.

        • Re:A license? (Score:4, Informative)

          by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:39PM (#34321032) Homepage Journal

          Yes and if you destroy someones ship in international waters it is also covered by treaty and international law just like space...
          But this rocket is going to transit US air space to get into orbit, it is also owned by a US company, it is launching from the US, it is using the US eastern test range, it is flying under a US government contract, and I believe will land in US. The US has the right and frankly the obligation to certify that this flight will not be an epic mess up.
          So yea the FAA is going to deal with this.

          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            But this rocket is going to transit US air space to get into orbit, it is also owned by a US company, it is launching from the US, it is using the US eastern test range, it is flying under a US government contract, and I believe will land in US.

            So... it pays taxes in Ireland?

        • by hedwards (940851)
          Not quite, nobody owns space, but the US does own and control the airspace direction over head. Which is why it's a reentry license and not a space license. There is no legal requirement that the US or any other nation allow access to its airspace. And the funny thing about space travel is that unless you start and stop in space or another planet you're eventually going to need permission to enter somebody's airspace. Although, Suppose you could build an offshore derrick like Boeing was trying where that do
        • Re:A license? (Score:5, Informative)

          by thpr (786837) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @03:35PM (#34321802)

          Yeah, except... nobody owns space by international treaty anyway. So if a satellite malfunctions (or a space ship collides with one), legally it's like international waters.

          Articles VI and VII of The Treaty [unoosa.org] disagree.

          Which - for reference - is different from the law of the sea [un.org].

      • by durrr (1316311)
        Couldn't the FAA revoke their reentry license?

        Knowing US beurocracy i can already see either Orbital Decay or Gravity called to a hearing of why it conspired to grant re entry to the US for unlicensed spacecrafts.
      • by houghi (78078)

        And your government waits for approval from all others?

      • No, it means it wouldn't leave the launch pad.

        Wouldn't that be covered by a license for leaving earth, instead of a license for reentry? After all, you might want to try a one-way trip to Mars, in which case there would not be any reentry.

        • by tepples (727027)

          No, it means it wouldn't leave the launch pad.

          Wouldn't that be covered by a license for leaving earth, instead of a license for reentry?

          I'd imagine that a license for reentry would be executed as part of the same document as a license for leaving.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Really?
      Why?
      A governmental organization tells you how and what you can drive to the store.
      A governmental organization tells you how and what you can fly in the sky.
      A governmental organisation tells you what you can sail on a lake or an ocean.
      Not to mention this isn't going to the "stars" it is going into orbit.
      And yes their are rules. A lot of rules for this kind of thing.
      The FAA had to approve the reentry and landing since it is probably going to be in US air space and or territory. On can imagine that they

    • So if they didn't get this license, does that mean it would never return to Earth?

      Not legally, at least, provided your reentry path passes U.S: territory (the FAA doesn't have much to say about non-U.S. territory I think; however other countries might require licenses as well). Of course, currently there are not too many cops up there who could stop you. :-)

      Of course it would be a bad surprise if you are in space and then notice that you forgot to apply for a reentry license ...

      That the laws of physics woul

    • The question is In how many pieces will it land in??

    • There is a difference between what you can legally do and what you can physically do.

  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:32PM (#34320896) Homepage
    I have a class 2 (three axle) re-entry license I got at the DMV. Only cost $20 and the exam was waived since I don't have a spacecraft yet. It works like a charm at bars to pick up skanky chicks.
  • by formfeed (703859) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:38PM (#34321008)
    ... when you ask for reentry and they just keep telling you. "Please stay in low orbit. We will contact you again"
  • It's needed. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:42PM (#34321076) Homepage

    Bear in mind that a spacecraft launch and an ICBM launch look very similar, and a re-entry looks like an incoming missile. It's best if everybody knows where and when to expect such events, so that various military forces don't overreact. Both the normal scenarios and the abort plans need to be reviewed.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:57PM (#34321306)

    Article summary states: "allowing the reentry to Earth of a privately developed spacecraft".

    Presumably the article summary should have read "allowing the reentry to the USA's airspace of a privately developed spacecraft"?

    I am guessing the FAA's [wikipedia.org] jurisdiction only extends over USA territories rather than making a claim for global control over who lands on Earth? I am assuming the Russians and Chinese don't have to notify the FAA whenever they wish to land a spacecraft, nor would they expect a private craft launched and landed in their airspace to ask the FAA for permission?

    • by dpilot (134227)

      The stunning thing about this is that it's permitted, in spite of no participation by ATK. I guess they're making sure that they don't cross or enter Utah airspace along the way. (Seems necessary to tie this into the other recent space story.)

    • by rijrunner (263757)

      Each country is legally responsible for its own vehicles. By international treaty, they have to provide basic telemetry to other countries. The FAA is the United States' designated body for this. Other countries use their own. You still need US approval from the FAA to re-enter in other countries as this is roughly equivalent to the Certificate of Airworthiness required to fly aircraft. There has to be legal documents showing you are allowed to fly, at all.

      (ie, the FAA is not j

    • I am guessing the FAA's jurisdiction only extends over USA territories rather than making a claim for global control over who lands on Earth?

      No, it's not quite like that.
       
      The US government is responsible (by treaty) for all launches and re-entries performed by it's citizens no matter where they originate or land - and the FAA is the body within the government delegated to exercise that oversight.

  • I'm curious how it works for regular ships. If I own a sailboat and want to (as a probably bad example) sail from LA, around South America, and over to Florida, do I have to get a license? In my mind that would be the best analogous situation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Yes, you probably would require several different licenses. For a sailing vessel you are going to need a master's license that allows you to operate the sailboat in coastal and international waters. This might not apply to a 10-foot sailboat, but I don't think you are going to sail one of those around South America.

      You may need several other licenses, including a license that covers the toilet on board because without that you would be polluting without a license. Polluting with a license is fine, but yo

      • by flonker (526111)

        As a master captain, you will also need to get a TWIC card from the TSA. From what I hear, it's a completely unimplemented program, except for the handing out ID cards part.

  • Since it's going in the air in the United States, if there were someone to be on board would whomever is on board be subject to TSA screenings?
  • I believe that the FAA and EPA both have to license a launch. EPA is pretty nasty to get through because all those chemicals involved. Obviously, anything using chemicals might be hazardous to the environment.

    Sounds like they managed to get a launch license, so that seems pretty good.

  • Wow... I thought Scaled Composites got the first one for their flights back in 2004!

    Here is MSNBC's article on SpaceShipOne [msn.com] talking about the launch and re-entry permit.

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