Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
For legal questions concerning this proposed rule, contact Sabrina Jawed, AGC-240, Office of the Chief Counsel, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591; telephone (202) 267-8839; email
See the “Additional Information” section for information on how to comment on this proposal and how the FAA will handle comments received. The “Additional Information” section also contains related information about the docket, privacy, and the handling of proprietary or confidential business information. In addition, there is information on obtaining copies of related rulemaking documents.
The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, as amended and re-codified at 51 U.S.C. 50901-50923 (the Act), authorizes the Department of Transportation and thus the FAA, through delegations, to oversee, license, and regulate commercial launch and reentry activities, and the operation of launch and reentry sites as carried out by U.S. citizens or within the United States. 51 U.S.C. 50904, 50905. The Act directs the FAA to exercise this responsibility consistent with public health and safety, safety of property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. 51 U.S.C. 50905. Title 51 U.S.C. 50901(a)(7) directs the FAA to regulate only to the extent necessary, in relevant part, to protect the public health and safety and safety of property. The FAA is also responsible for encouraging, facilitating, and promoting commercial space launches by the private sector. 51 U.S.C. 50903.
The FAA's licensing and permitting requirements for commercial space launches are contained in 14 CFR chapter III. Section 400.2 specifies the requirements in chapter III apply to commercial space transportation activities conducted in the United States or by a U.S. citizen, but do not apply to amateur rocket activities or to space activities carried out by the United States Government on behalf of the United States Government.
The FAA began hearing of tethered launches around 2002, when launch operators tested relatively small vehicles tethered to the ground with engines that burned for short periods of time. Operators later tested larger, more developed and costly vehicles by attaching them to a tether and attaching the tether to a crane or forklift to prevent the vehicle from hitting the ground. Some of these tethered launches met the FAA's amateur rocket activity criteria,
Title 51 U.S.C. 50901(a)(7) directs the FAA to regulate only to the extent necessary, in relevant part, to protect the public health and safety and safety of property. Therefore, the FAA proposes to reduce the scope of chapter III by excluding tethered launches that meet the requirements of this proposed rule. This proposal would maintain public safety by creating threshold criteria to determine whether chapter III needs to apply. FAA oversight would no longer be required for these launches because of the comprehensive protection the proposed launch vehicle, tether system, and operational criteria would provide.
This rulemaking would not affect amateur rocket activities, regardless of whether they include a tether system, because chapter III regulations do not apply to the launch of amateur rockets. Those operators that conduct launches covered under chapter III and are not eligible for the exclusion proposed here, must continue to follow current requirements by applying for a license, permit or waiver.
The FAA is proposing a number of changes consistent with the goals of Executive Order 13610, Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens, 77 FR 28469 (May 14, 2012). This proposal, if adopted, would require that the launch vehicle be unmanned, be powered by a liquid or hybrid engine, and carry no more than 5,000 pounds of propellant. It would also require that the tether system, including the points of attachment within the tether system, meet specified structural criteria, and that the tethered operations be carried out within specified separation distances from the public. The structural criteria would mitigate the hazards that can compromise the structural integrity of the tether system. The vehicle requirements and operational criteria would provide additional protection to the public by mitigating potential hazards posed by a tether system failure.
The proposed rule would alleviate burdens on both the vehicle operator and the FAA. The operator would no longer incur the costs associated with submitting a launch license application, permit application or petition for waiver under chapter III. In addition, the operator would not incur the costs associated with any delay in processing applications or waivers. Finally, the FAA would not have to evaluate applications, conduct independent analyses, or issue licenses, permits or waivers.
This proposal would amend two sections of part 400. It would revise § 401.5 (Definitions) to add a definition for a tether system. It would also revise § 400.2 (Scope) to add requirements for the launch vehicle and tether system, as well as separation distances from the public for the tethered launch operations.
The FAA proposes to define
A tether system should prevent a vehicle from departing the launch site because the vehicle could pose a hazard to the public. Typically, a tether system is composed of at least three parts: one vehicle connection; one fixed connection; and at least one tether that has one end fastened to the vehicle connection and the other end fastened to a fixed connection to a solid base so as to limit the vehicle's range of movement. A vehicle connection consists of all mechanical components that attach a tether to a launch vehicle. These include, for example, metal frames, bolts that attach the vehicle and metal frame together, and shackles. A fixed connection attaches a tether to a solid base, such as a crane, a forklift or
The FAA's proposed definition is broad enough to encompass all possible tether system configurations. This proposed definition would require operators, when determining if chapter III applies, to account for the effect of a tethered launch on every component from the point of attachment to the vehicle to a solid base, that experience load during a tethered launch. Accounting for a whole system would reduce the likelihood of a system failure caused by an overlooked component that was unable to withstand the maximum load exerted on it.
In devising a tether system, the operator should take into account the vehicle's structural integrity because if the tether were able to withstand the forces exerted on it, but the vehicle could not, then the vehicle could break free. If this were to happen and the vehicle exceeded the proposed flight limit of 75 feet above ground level (AGL), the operator would have failed to comply with the proposed requirement in § 400.2(c)(2)(iii).
The FAA's proposed definition accounts for only one tether, regardless of any other tethers within the system. A tether system containing multiple tethers or multiple attachment points is not necessarily more reinforced or safer: all of the applied forces may not be evenly distributed among the tethers. For instance, for a tether system with four tethers, if an operator assumes that the maximum load is evenly distributed among all four tethers of the system and designs each tether to withstand one-fourth of the maximum load, the entire tether system could fail if the vehicle's position shifted and more than one-fourth of the maximum load was placed on a single tether. In other words, if one tether can fail, then all tethers within the system can fail. Accordingly, in order to reduce the likelihood of a tether system failure, the system must contain at least one tether capable of bearing the maximum force exerted on the tether system, regardless of the number of additional tethers within the system. Increasing the number of tethers within the system does not guarantee an increase in strength for the overall system.
In order to avoid the applicability of chapter III, the FAA proposes that a launch vehicle would have to be unmanned and meet the requirements proposed below.
The FAA would require a launch vehicle excluded by tether from chapter III to have a liquid or hybrid motor; a solid rocket motor would not be permitted. Liquid or hybrid motors are composed of systems that require mixing of the propellants to combust, whereas solid motors consist of relatively simple systems where the propellants are already formulated with oxidizer dispersed in fuel. If a tethered vehicle were to lose control, the operator would rely on the tether system to constrain the vehicle and bring it to the ground. The fragile nature of liquid or hybrid motors ensures that ground impact would render them inoperable.
The FAA would not permit a launch vehicle to carry more than 5,000 pounds of propellant. The FAA's records indicate that, historically, the most propellant that has been on board a launch vehicle for a tethered launch is approximately 1,000 pounds. Greater propellant amounts result in both a heavier launch vehicle and greater explosive energy.
To determine this proposed cap, the FAA assessed the weight capacity of cranes and forklifts from a random sampling and from data used during past tethered launches. The data from the past launches indicate that the average weight capacity of these crane or forklift tether systems was 6,000 pounds; however, there were gaps in the data because this information was voluntary and not all operators provided it. To fill in the gaps, the FAA randomly selected eleven crane and forklift models from several manufacturers.
The FAA proposes conservative technical and design criteria for an effective tether system. The FAA developed these criteria by determining what would prevent a tether from breaking and exposing the public to launch vehicle hazards. The FAA proposes five criteria as necessary to reduce the risk of a tether system failure: (1) Established strength properties, (2) minimum factor of safety, (3) launch vehicle constraint, (4) no damage displayed before launch, and (5) protection from launch vehicle exhaust plume.
The FAA would require that an eligible tether system have established strength properties that would not yield or fail under the maximum dynamic load on the system or under a load equivalent to two times the maximum potential engine thrust.
Because some operators may not readily know the maximum dynamic load for their tether systems, the FAA proposes an alternate means of determining whether the tether is of sufficient strength. If an operator does not know the maximum dynamic load, the operator may calculate the maximum load as follows: determine the maximum potential engine thrust of the tethered vehicle and then multiply the maximum engine thrust by a factor of two. Using the maximum potential engine thrust of two is an industry standard for estimating the dynamic load of any structural system.
The FAA would require operators to multiply the maximum load by a minimum factor of safety
The U.S. Air Force has used these same factors for similar operations. The U.S. Air Force conducts rocket operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges, including of tethered and ground-based systems. It recommends a minimum factor of safety of 3.0 for yield stress,
The FAA proposes that the launch vehicle be constrained so that its flight cannot exceed 75 feet AGL. This altitude limit is based on the FAA's assessment of historical data on tether lengths and on the height of cranes and forklifts to determine a safe maximum altitude for tether systems. Based on this assessment, the FAA calculated an average crane or forklift height and an average tether length. The FAA then added these two values together to determine the launch vehicle's potential altitude.
Crane and forklift data from previous tethered launches and sampling indicate that the average height of the crane or forklift in a tether system is 43 feet. There were gaps in the data because the information was voluntary, and not all operators provided it. To fill the gaps, the FAA examined random samples of different crane and forklift heights, which indicated that operators typically use mid-sized cranes and forklifts to conduct their tethered operations. The FAA then took samples of mid-sized cranes and forklifts and averaged their heights and weight capacities to determine their physical limitations. The FAA obtained the samples from online brochures of manufacturers of cranes and forklifts.
A launch vehicle's potential altitude is a crucial element in determining how far debris can travel in the event of a crash or an explosion. Large tether lengths allow for high altitude flights, while short tether lengths limit the vehicle to low altitudes. This means that a tether system failure during flight can result in large vehicle ranges for long tethers and short vehicle ranges for short tethers, because altitude and range are proportional. In order to reduce the risk to the public during tethered launches, the tether length must not be too long. An appropriate length is also necessary to prevent hazardous events, such as the entanglement of the tether with launch support structures or other facilities. Moreover, an appropriate tether length would prevent a controlled airspace incursion.
The FAA assumed that the maximum tether length for the average crane or forklift tether system would not be greater than the crane or forklift height because such a tether length could allow a launch vehicle to hit the ground and possibly explode. The FAA also assumed that the tether must be given room to stretch, because a 43-foot tether attached to a 43-foot high crane could allow the launch vehicle to hit the ground when the length of the vehicle and the elasticity of the tether are taken into account. Based on these assumptions, the FAA concluded that the tether length should be less than 43 feet.
The FAA examined past tether waiver applications to determine the appropriate tether length. The tether waiver data showed that the maximum tether length operators typically use is approximately 32 feet. The FAA would use a tether length of 32 feet, which provides a margin of 11 feet to account for the tether's elasticity and the length of the vehicle, to calculate maximum altitude. This length is appropriate and reasonable for tethered flights because past tethered flights have demonstrated that the length allows the vehicle sufficient lateral movement for operators to conduct tethered activities, while limiting the vehicle to low altitudes and thereby reducing the risk to the public.
When the average crane or forklift height of 43 feet is added to an appropriate tether length of 32 feet, the result is a maximum potential altitude of approximately 75 feet for the tethered vehicle. Accordingly, the FAA proposes to require that the tether system physically constrain the launch vehicle within an altitude of 75 feet AGL. This altitude does not require operators to use 43-foot high cranes or 32-foot long tethers; those measurements were only used to calculate an appropriate maximum altitude for a tethered launch that would not require FAA oversight. The proposed maximum altitude would protect the public by limiting the launch vehicle's range.
The FAA would require that the tether system show no visual component damage before each launch. This requirement would reduce the risk of a tether system failure due to pre-existing damage. A visual check of the tether system before each launch could prevent failure by identifying signs of damage such as component fatigue, fracture, wear, creep, corrosion, yielding, or thermal shock. While the initial stages of some of these forms of damage may not be visible to the naked eye, they may eventually become visible. The FAA offers the following definitions of these terms as guidance in conducting the visual check:
The FAA would require an operator to insulate or locate the tether system such that it will not experience thermal damage due to a launch vehicle's exhaust. This requirement would mitigate the risk of a tether system failure due to thermal damage. Components exposed to the heat emitted from a launch vehicle's exhaust plume may be damaged or severely weakened. Metallic components, for example, that are exposed to a vehicle's exhaust plume may not visually show damage; however, all structural materials suffer significant strength degradation at elevated temperatures.
The FAA proposes that tethered launches be conducted at a sufficient distance from the public and from property belonging to members of the public to mitigate the effects when a launch vehicle unintentionally separates from the tether system. A launch vehicle may transfer unanticipated loads into the tether system, resulting in tether system failure and vehicle separation. Although a properly designed and constructed tether system should not fail, adding distance between the launch point and members of the public is a prudent and relatively simple and inexpensive safety measure to implement.
The FAA computed its proposed separation distances by first calculating a conservative maximum range of a vehicle that broke free of the tether system, and then calculating the hazardous fragment distance from the point of impact based on the type and amount of propellants onboard. Table A—Separation Distances for Tethered Launches in proposed § 400.2 would contain the separation distances required for a tethered launch that was excluded from chapter III. Each distance calculation in Table A is discussed below.
To determine a launch vehicle's maximum range, the FAA used Newton's equations of motion to estimate the maximum possible distance a vehicle that broke free of a tether could travel. The FAA simulated the scenarios where a tether system failed, and the vehicle followed a ballistic trajectory to the ground. The analysis consisted of the following assumptions: (1) The vehicle would be non-propulsive upon release; (2) the initial release velocity of the vehicle was maximized; (3) the tether's pull would not reduce the vehicle's velocity; (4) the tether would fully extend upon release; (5) the release angle of the vehicle would be the angle that provided the maximum range; and (6) the vehicle would fly through a vacuum. Except for the non-propulsive nature of the vehicle, all assumptions are conservative from a public safety perspective. The non-propulsive assumption is reasonable because a vehicle that broke free of a tether would most likely be unstable and not able to sustain flight in any particular direction.
The FAA also conducted a computer simulation of the same scenarios, using a trajectory analysis tool to verify the validity of the FAA's maximum range calculations. The numerical results from the computer simulation were consistent with the results from the FAA's computational analysis.
Upon impact at its maximum range, a launch vehicle with liquid propellants has the potential to explode, creating both overpressure and debris hazards. Explosive hazards associated with propellant quantities up to 5,000 pounds are driven by fragment hazards. The FAA used the formulas provided in Table 1 below to determine the hazardous fragment distance given a launch vehicle impact. This distance is a function of the net explosive weight (NEW), or the explosive equivalent of the propellants used on the launch vehicle.
The hazardous fragment distance and NEW relationship of Table 1 is based on data obtained from Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board Technical Paper 16.
The FAA added the maximum impact range and the hazardous fragment distance results to calculate the total separation distance in proposed Table A. Proposed Table A would represent the distance from the launch point at which people and property belonging to the public would be safe from a launch vehicle mishap. This separation distance would be proportional to the amount of propellant on board the launch vehicle. That is, the greater the propellant on board, the greater the required separation distance. Distances would start at a value corresponding to a propellant load between 1 and 500 pounds and increase in increments of 500 pounds up to a maximum of 4,501 to 5,000 pounds. Note that the FAA's proposed separation distances would only be effective if the launch vehicle—
Was operated within an altitude of 75 feet AGL;
Carried no more than 5,000 pounds of propellant; and
Had a liquid or hybrid engine.
Changes to Federal regulations must undergo several economic analyses. First, Executive Order 12866 and Executive Order 13563 direct that each Federal agency shall propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs. Second, the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96-354) requires agencies to analyze the economic impact of regulatory changes on small entities. Third, the Trade Agreements Act (Pub. L. 96-39) prohibits agencies from setting standards that create unnecessary obstacles to the foreign commerce of the United States. In developing U.S. standards, the Trade Act requires agencies to consider international standards and, where appropriate, that they be the basis of U.S. standards. Fourth, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-4) requires agencies to prepare a written assessment of the costs, benefits, and other effects of proposed or final rules that include a Federal mandate likely to result in the expenditure by State, local, or tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100 million or more annually (adjusted for inflation with base year of 1995). This portion of the preamble summarizes the FAA's analysis of the economic impacts of this proposed rule.
Department of Transportation Order DOT 2100.5 prescribes policies and procedures for simplification, analysis, and review of regulations. If the expected cost impact is so minimal that a proposed rule does not warrant a full evaluation, this order permits a statement to that effect and the basis for it to be included in the preamble if a full regulatory evaluation of the cost and benefits is not prepared. Such a determination has been made for this proposed rule. The reasoning for this determination follows:
Currently, the FAA has licensing authority over tethered launches, which are considered launches under chapter III unless they meet the definition of an amateur rocket launch.
The proposed rule establishes clear and simple criteria for an effective tether system. In addition, it proposes vehicle and operational criteria as added measures to protect the public in the event of a tether system failure. Operators would not have to apply for a launch license, permit or waiver from chapter III to conduct tethered launches of non-amateur rockets
For the reasons discussed, the rule would be cost relieving to both operators and the FAA. The FAA requests comments with supporting justification about the agency's determination of minimal impact.
The FAA has determined that this proposed rule is not a “significant regulatory action” as defined in section 3(f) of Executive Order 12866, and is not “significant” as defined in DOT's Regulatory Policies and Procedures.
The Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96-354) (RFA) establishes “as a principle of regulatory issuance that agencies shall endeavor, consistent with the objectives of the rule and of applicable statutes, to fit regulatory and informational requirements to the scale of the businesses, organizations, and governmental jurisdictions subject to regulation. To achieve this principle, agencies are required to solicit and consider flexible regulatory proposals and to explain the rationale for their actions to assure that such proposals are given serious consideration.” The RFA covers a wide-range of small entities, including small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and small governmental jurisdictions.
Agencies must perform a review to determine whether a rule will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. If the agency determines that it will, the agency must prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis as described in the RFA.
However, if an agency determines that a rule is not expected to have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities, section 605(b) of the RFA provides that the head of the agency may so certify and a regulatory flexibility analysis is not required. The certification must include a statement providing the factual basis for this determination, and the reasoning should be clear.
This proposed rule is expected to provide an alternative to conducting tethered launches under chapter III and therefore could alleviate the financial burden on operators who conduct tethered launches of applying for a launch license, permit or waiver to chapter III if they follow the requirements established in the proposal. The expected outcome would therefore have either a cost saving impact or no impact on small entities affected by the proposed rule.
Therefore, the FAA certifies this proposed rule, if promulgated, would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The FAA solicits comments regarding this determination. Specifically, the FAA requests comments on whether the proposed rule creates any compliance costs unique to small entities. Please provide detailed supporting information.
The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 (Pub. L. 96-39), as amended by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (Pub. L. 103-465), prohibits Federal agencies from establishing standards or engaging in related activities that create unnecessary obstacles to the foreign commerce of the United States. Pursuant to these Acts, establishing standards is not considered an unnecessary obstacle to the foreign commerce of the United States, so long
Title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-4) requires each Federal agency to prepare a written statement assessing the effects of any Federal mandate in a proposed or final agency rule that may result in an expenditure of $100 million or more (in 1995 dollars) in any one year by State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector; such a mandate is deemed to be a “significant regulatory action.” The FAA currently uses an inflation-adjusted value of $143.1 million in lieu of $100 million. This proposed rule does not contain such a mandate; therefore, the requirements of Title II of the Act do not apply.
The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3507(d)) requires that the FAA consider the impact of paperwork and other information collection burdens imposed on the public. The FAA has determined that there would be no new requirement for information collection associated with this proposed rule.
In keeping with U.S. obligations under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, it is FAA policy to conform to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices to the maximum extent practicable. The FAA has determined that there are no ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices that correspond to these proposed regulations.
FAA Order 1050.1E identifies FAA actions that are categorically excluded from preparation of an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. The FAA has determined this rulemaking action qualifies for the categorical exclusion identified in paragraph 312f and involves no extraordinary circumstances.
See the “Regulatory Evaluation” discussion in the “Regulatory Notices and Analyses” section elsewhere in this preamble.
The FAA has analyzed this proposed rule under the principles and criteria of Executive Order 13132, Federalism. The agency has determined that this action would not have a substantial direct effect on the States, or the relationship between the Federal Government and the States, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government, and, therefore, would not have Federalism implications.
The FAA analyzed this proposed rule under Executive Order 13211, Actions Concerning Regulations that Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use (May 18, 2001). The agency has determined that it would not be a “significant energy action” under the executive order and would not be likely to have a significant adverse effect on the supply, distribution, or use of energy.
The FAA invites interested persons to participate in this rulemaking by submitting written comments, data, or views. The agency also invites comments relating to the economic, environmental, energy, or federalism impacts that might result from adopting the proposals in this document. The most helpful comments reference a specific portion of the proposal, explain the reason for any recommended change, and include supporting data. To ensure the docket does not contain duplicate comments, commenters should send only one copy of written comments, or if comments are filed electronically, commenters should submit only one time.
The FAA will file in the docket all comments it receives, as well as a report summarizing each substantive public contact with FAA personnel concerning this proposed rulemaking. Before acting on this proposal, the FAA will consider all comments it receives on or before the closing date for comments. The FAA will consider comments filed after the comment period has closed if it is possible to do so without incurring expense or delay. The agency may change this proposal in light of the comments it receives.
An electronic copy of rulemaking documents may be obtained from the Internet by—
1. Searching the Federal eRulemaking Portal (
2. Visiting the FAA's Regulations and Policies web page at
3. Accessing the Government Printing Office's web page at
All documents the FAA considered in developing this proposed rule, including economic analyses and technical reports, may be accessed from the Internet through the Federal eRulemaking Portal referenced in item (1) above.
Space transportation and exploration; licensing.
Space transportation and exploration.
In consideration of the foregoing, the Federal Aviation Administration proposes to amend Chapter III of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations as follows:
1. The authority citation for part 400 continues to read as follows:
51 U.S.C. 50901-50923.
2. Revise § 400.2 to read as follows:
These regulations set forth the procedures and requirements applicable to the authorization and supervision under 51 U.S.C. subtitle V, chapter 509, of commercial space transportation activities conducted in the United States or by a U.S. citizen. The regulations in this chapter do not apply to—
(a) Space activities carried out by the United States Government on behalf of the United States government;
(b) The launch of an amateur rocket as defined in § 1.1 of chapter I; or
(c) A launch that meets the following criteria:
(i) Be unmanned;
(ii) Be powered by a liquid or hybrid rocket motor; and
(iii) Carry no more than 5,000 pounds of propellant.
(i) Have established strength properties that will not yield or fail under—
(A) The maximum dynamic load on the system; or
(B) A load equivalent to two times the maximum potential engine thrust.
(ii) Have a minimum safety factor of 3.0 for yield stress and 5.0 for ultimate stress.
(iii) Constrain the launch vehicle within 75 feet above ground level.
(iv) Display no damage prior to the launch.
(v) Be insulated or located such that it will not experience thermal damage due to the launch vehicle's exhaust.
3. The authority citation for part 401 continues to read as follows:
51 U.S.C. 50101-50923.
4. Amend § 401.5 by adding the definition of
Tether system means a device that contains launch vehicle hazards by physically constraining a launch vehicle in flight to a specified range from its launch point. A tether system includes all components, from the point of attachment to the vehicle to a solid base, that experience load during a tethered launch.