Launching new amateur rocket rules

Countdown continues as FAA/AST prepares "to update our regulations and align them with advances in the amateur rocket industry," by promulgating new Requirements for Amateur Rocket Activities. FAA's period for commenting on this proposed rulemaking closed on Sept. 12th, and you can read all the submissions from folks who weighed in on the NPRM at DOT's docket management site -- and don't forget to type in the corrected docket number for this rulemaking -- 27390). All the folks with the right rocket stuff launched feedback. After all, for many this is more than just a weekend hobby -- space transportation industry leaders, among others, are forged in rocketry clubs -- so some folks don't mind taking the time out to talk to the government about regulations concerning these precious homemade boosters. I counted at least 30 comments, including of course from folks who keep a sharp eye on government action concerning hobby rocketry such as the National Association of Rocketry and Tripoli Rocketry Association (and it's good to see them addressing legal concerns other than the costly and explosive ACPC litigation with BATFE and instead talking to friendly FAA).

So why the need for new regulations? As our rocket regulators explain,

Historically, the FAA has relied on state and local regulation, voluntary self-regulation, and its own analysis to fulfill its oversight responsibility for unmanned rocket operations under [14 CFR] part 101. The voluntary self-regulation has been carried out by the organizations sponsoring these activities. When we amended part 101 in 1994, we included provisions for large model rockets. The voluntary self-regulation and state and local regulations were effective for purposes of protecting public safety for model and large model rockets. However, amateur rocket performance has continued to improve and participation in amateur rocket launches has increased significantly. Therefore, the once remote possibility of an accident or incident resulting from amateur rocket activities has become more likely. The FAA now believes these activities need regulation appropriate for continued safe operation. This rulemaking is intended to preserve the safety record of amateur rocket activities, address inconsistencies, and clarify existing amateur rocket regulations.

Provisions discussed in the comments included the information requirements for class 3 rockets; categorization of class 1 and class 2 rockets; the "within five miles of any airport runway" restriction (one concerned rocketeer, Jennifer Ash-Poole, said her club "has launched within 8 miles of Camp David, with a NOTAM, without any problems, even when the president was there"); other items.

And as we always say here on SLP, everyone who did not comment loved every word of the NPRM.

In an interesting late submission, which FAA/AST graciously posted anyway, Michael Aherne, who describes himself as having "worked extensively on these rules" while at AST and subsequently left for grad school, calls the comments "absolutely excellent," and includes in his comment a "summarized rewrite" of the proposed rule "incorporating all the comments I agree and disagree with." (Maybe AST should hire him back?)

Yes, amateur rocketry is exciting, It's outdoorsy, social, educational, and you get to say things like "ballistic coefficient" just to keep the lawyers scratching their heads. (And if you have technical questions as we await FAA's final rule, don't send them here, shoot over to
Dick's Rocket Dungeon.)

* * *
IMAGE CREDIT: Alamogordo Rocketry Club.

UPDATE: By the way, I just added to my Netflix queue October Sky, a film based on the book about hobby rocketry, Rocket Boys. And here's some interesting trivia on this film, via Wikipedia: October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. Apparently research by Universal Pictures found women over 30 would not go to see a movie titled Rocket Boys, so the film company "changed the title to be more inviting to a wider audience." [Hmm. I thought the title was a reference to the Sputnik launch. Well, in any case, as a "woman over 30" I'm just glad they didn't worry enough about me to change the name of Spider-man.--JL]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?