Rewatching the Astronaut Farmer movie got me thinking: if I own a land and am capable/rich enough to build a rocket to launch from this land - will I be punished somehow for doing it? (presuming I'm able to successfully return of course)

Let the location be U.S. (or Europe if that matters somehow)

  • $\begingroup$ This will come down to what own really means. In the absolute sense only goverments fullt own land. $\endgroup$
    – lijat
    Apr 24, 2019 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ Jeff Bezos is a rich guy who launches rockets from his land in West Texas. So it demonstrably can be done. $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2019 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sure there's a permitting process involving multiple federal agencies (yay bureaucracy!) but as @OrganicMarble says it can and has been done. If you mean just building a large rocket (the movie rocket is orbit-capable) and launching it without telling/asking anyone, then yeah you're probably going to have to answer some questions at the very least. $\endgroup$
    – ben
    Apr 24, 2019 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @SolomonSlow the FAA did a very poor job of riding herd on Virgin Galactic, they were all about go-fever at the expense of safety. If you read the accident report the FAA comes off very, very badly. parabolicarc.com/2018/02/27/george-nield-retire-faa $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2019 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ OK, well, full disclosure: My impression was formed sometime back in the 1980s when I tried for a private pilot's license. I guess that attitudes and policies in government may have changed somewhat since those days. $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2019 at 21:17

1 Answer 1


Yes. It is illegal in the US to launch a rocket of that magnitude without a license. It is actually a huge burden to get such clearance (I wonder why...). The entire process is outlined here. Basically, you need to prove a few things, like:

  1. Any failures won't endanger anyone
  2. You are doing this for purely civilian reasons

The process begins with notifying the FAA that you intend to do this, and then a relatively lengthy process takes place in which your site and vehicle are studied against many regulations.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, so my idea was that "a person just did it" - without much following the rules. Am I assuming that if one just blindly does it - then he/she is a subject to some penalties according to the regulations you've mentioned? $\endgroup$
    – Alma Do
    Apr 25, 2019 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ As it is illegal to launch rockets in your back yard and the fact that even an "unarmed" rocket is still a huge bomb, you will get legal punishment for it. $\endgroup$
    – GittingGud
    Apr 25, 2019 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AlmaDo it's similar to flying a passenger jet without following the rules. Even if you built a big enough runway on your ranch, and you bought a 747 or something, you can't just take off and fly. There are so many reasons why, but one of the bigger ones is that airspace is protected. Planes aren't flying randomly, they are following pre-set flight paths to prevent midair collisions and the like. A rocket suddenly flying into one of those paths would be a huge danger, and that's just the beginning. So yes, you can't "just do it" :-P $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2019 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelStachowsky well for airplanes it's simple to understand for me: I can (potentially) trespass into the air space of other countries or protected military space. But with the rocket I don't really do it. I just fly away to the space and that's it, no real trespassing in terms of air space $\endgroup$
    – Alma Do
    Apr 25, 2019 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ Well it's not just the airspace of another country. You can't fly into an airport without following the proper flight path even in your own country. I suppose if you were far enough away from a population center then airspace wouldn't be the major concern, but that's not an endorsement to try to fly an orbital rocket without approval :-P In fact, many high power rocketry hobbyists are required to file for a license even though they don't go anywhere close to orbital. It's easier to get a hobby high power license than an orbital one... $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2019 at 13:02

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