Sorry if this is a little broad and hypothetical or too legal.

Say I (as a company) (hypothetically) was to build a space gun, reasonably similar to the 7-incher here in Canada, but with a second stage (hybrid acrylic/Lox) and a bit more complex, and able to reach a good 400km orbit.

Besides not shooting it at a Cessna or landing the projectile in an apartment building or something, are the legal hurdles manageable for a very small company with little lobbying power? Would I have to get a temporary no-fly exclusion zone, for instance, and have a range officer with an "explode" button, etc? Essentially, is this something that someone who isn't Elon Musk or Gerard Bull could legally accomplish?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you expecting to get 6000+ m/s of ∆v off of an acrylic/LOX stage of 7 inch diameter? At any rate, this is entirely a legal question; you'll need to meet your country's requirements for both air travel and privately owned artillery; there's going to be a hell of a lot of paperwork. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2015 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ A badly designed hybrid will get you 230s isp, insofar as I've seen. Effective Exhaust V is that times 9.8, so the rocket equation is 6000=230*9.8*ln(r), which gives me a mass ratio of about 14.5, which seems achievable to me; empty weight 15kg, full 210kg. So if my equation is correct, then I should be able to get at least 6k dV if I hit that mass ratio, no? Anyhow, thanks for the info. I guess this is a bit too much of a legal question for here. $\endgroup$
    – 0xDBFB7
    Oct 5, 2015 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ You will also need to get in contact with NORAD prior to each launch, who will presumably let Russia know. Just so you don't accidentally start world war 3. I remember seeing a video on auroras, where some scientists were sending up sounding rockets, and the had to get permission prior to each launch $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2015 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting, all these years later, that SpinLaunch is now attempting to build something that's effectively an orbital space gun (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpinLaunch), and have done a test launch to "tens of thousands of feet". I don't have the time to go digging around for the kind of regulation they're dealing with (their site doesn't mention anything), but my guess is that it's the same regulations any (sub)orbital launch has, so at least authorization from the FAA (or equivalent), cleared airspace and one or more downrange abort zones. $\endgroup$
    – paulmrest
    May 9 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ @user47149 thanks so much for the ping! Sorry for mangling it in the suggested edit, fixed :) $\endgroup$
    – 0xDBFB7
    May 10 at 4:54

2 Answers 2


Laws are only as good as the regulators come up with at the time. I doubt there is specific laws governing this, but there are a few analogs which can be used.

  1. Amateur rockets- If you are going to fly a spacecraft really high, you have to get a permit. This will involve a no fly exclusion zone, as anything that flies really high. This will probably involve a larger zone than is typical, owing to the large horizon that would be required (The projectile would remain closer to the Earth for further horizontally than a traditional rocket)
  2. Space Ship One- Received first license for suborbital rocket flights to be issued by the US Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Some issues of particular note: If your spacecraft can survive going 6 km/s in the atmosphere, then it would survive re-entry, without slowing down significantly. That makes it very dangerous.

You would probably need all of the same setup for a small orbital rocket company. Take a look at SpaceX around 2007, to see the types of things they had to do. They ended up launching from islands in the Pacific because that's where they were allowed to launch from.


Warning: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Also, please do not attempt constructing such devices because that would be highly irresponsible and dangerous.

An important subject had not been mentioned by the existing answer. Namely, legal issues will begin even outside of the launch's context, as any device capable of facilitating what you hypothesise to do will certainly be classified as a weapon.

While Americans can legally manufacture firearms for their own personal use, doing so is illegal in Canada without a licence (source).

Here is a quote from an article about homemade gun:

It is illegal to manufacture or possess a firearm without the appropriate licence and applicable registration certificate,” Jean-Philippe Levert, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, told Global News in a statement.

I could imagine the engineering miracle envisioned in your mind could as well be some sort a hyper-powerful potato cannon on steroids. Like h22 suggested in this post's comment thread, a firearm is a type of gun designed to be readily carried and used by an individual; it is not reasonable to expect a space gun to fit that definition. I agree with this suggestion; such a gun would probably be classified as a cannon. Here is a relevant fragment from Wikipedia (with "spud gun" being an alias for potato cannon):

A spud gun is not considered a firearm unless it fires a projectile faster than 152.4 meters per second and at a muzzle energy exceeding 5.7 Joules [sic] based on the definition of a firearm in the Canadian Criminal Code. A spud gun may be interpreted as an imitation firearm, and therefore it would be illegal to have it in possession in a public place. The spud gun would most likely be considered a dangerous weapon, and therefore if an offense is committed with it, a possession of a dangerous weapon charge could be issued. If the air powered spud gun has soft ammunition (potatoes) that splatter or bounce on impact and is kept under 100psi the spud gun is perfectly legal.

It is obvious that any device that has to have any reasonable chance of launching objects with orbital velocity will exceed the aforementioned limits by many orders of magnitude.

What is more, you would not be able to use the less "serious" pneumatic version, because the mere power of compressed gas just won't cut it. What you would have to use would be some sort of a chemical propellant, and the constituent chemicals are highly controlled substances, too.

Certain people have already experienced a lot of (highly deserved) trouble for irresponsible operation of drones that violated laws in the context of air traffic. Imagine what liability an absolute cannonball of a stray home-made space capsule could expose you to.

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    $\begingroup$ A fairearm is any type of gun designed to be readily carried and used by an individual. I cannot believe this space launcher would fit the definition. $\endgroup$
    – h22
    May 9 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ @h22 Updating the post, thanks for suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – user47149
    May 9 at 16:06

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