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I was doing a mission analysis on returning a nuclear payload (a spent reactor, nuclear battery, or something slightly radioactive) from orbit and was seeing the potential ways of bringing it back. The only way that seemed possible (from a regulatory point of view) was if the payload landed in the open ocean without having the potential of redirecting to a populated place, making the following tracks most viable: Reentering due south towards Antarctica in the Indian Ocean, Reentering due south or north in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and Reentering on any track into the Pacific Ocean.

So my question is this: Would the operator or owner of the payload need to get a reentry license from the FAA to fly these trajectories? Or are these trajectories outside the FAA's jurisdiction since they end in international waters?

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The jurisdiction to enforce these rules is based on where 'you' the responsible party are. If you are a US citizen the FAA and others will assert their authority over you, wherever you reside. Some of this is because the US is responsible for launches (and reentries) by its citizens.

Landing a nuclear device without prior permission anywhere on the planet is very likely to get you in a lot of trouble, no matter where you reside.

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