This section is describes the situation in the United States. Other countries either outlaw non-professional rocketry entirely (rare) or regulate is much less tightly (common).
There are three U.S. government organizations which affect our sport directly. Also some states (notably California) have additional licensing requirements.
- The B.A.T.F. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) regulates explosive materials and licenses individuals to purchase and store high-power rocket motors across state lines.
- The D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) regulates the transport of explosive materials, which affects shipping of composite solid-fuel rocket motors.
- The F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Administration) regulates the use of the sky. Rockets which weigh more than 1 pound or fly higher than 1000 feet cannot be flown without notifying the F.A.A.
The most confusing and difficult organization to deal with (at least recently) has been the B.A.T.F. All motors with greater than 62.5 grams of propellant require A.T.F.-suitable storage, while a federal A.T.F. permit would be required to purchase them in interstate commerce and/or to transport them across state lines. This permit is called a Low Explosives Users Permit (L.E.U.P). Mail-order companies will not sell high-power motors to anyone without an L.E.U.P. The Tripoli web site has filing instructions which you should read before applying for an L.E.U.P. See the Rocketry Online special report on Getting Legal for more detailed information on regulation at the U.S. national level. Note that state and local jurisdictions may have additional restrictions.
The D.O.T. affects rocketeers the least, because their requirements must generally be met by manufacturers and vendors who ship you motors purchased by mail order. However, you must comply with D.O.T. regulations when transporting motors to the launch site. You can personally transport up to 99lbs of legally manufactured commercial motors (in all but the very largest sizes) as long as they are still in the manufacturers packaging. Note that it is not legal to ship rocket motors through ordinary means. The Post Office and U.P.S. can ship them as “hazardous materials” for an extra charge.
Because rockets could damage airplanes, the F.A.A. requires that people launching rockets weighing more than one pound or flying higher than 1000 feet notify the F.A.A. in advance. For rockets 3.3lbs or heavier, an “FAA waiver” must be obtained from the local air control district. Waivers will generally not be granted in urban areas or near airports. Typical waivers for mid-power launches are 2500-5000 feet and high-power launches usually have waivers from 5000-25,000 feet. Some launches have waivers up to 100,000 feet, but these are rare and only given in very remote areas. It is rare for individuals to obtain waivers on their own, so generally high-power rockets are only launched at club launches.
Note that most of these rules only come into play with larger rockets and more powerful motors. If you stick to model rocketry (weight < 1 pound and flying < 1000 feet on pre-manufactured motors) you can launch in a local park. Just be careful of the infamous rocket-eating trees!
Related to these laws are the certifications maintained by the U.S. national hobby organizations. Both N.A.R. and Tripoli administer tests and track certifications for high-power rocketry at various levels (N.A.R. has two levels and Tripoli has three). These certifications have no legal force, but are a convenient and common way to control access to pre-manufactured motors. At N.A.R. and Tripoli sanctioned club launches, flyers must have the requisite certification level to fly high-power motors. Level 1 certification allows flying H and I motors; level 2 allows flying J, K and L motors, and level 3 (Tripoli only) allows flying M, N and O motors.
Submitted by: John Coker