Related, but focused on export of hardware rather than laws on publishing data: Can I make a completely ITAR-free spaceship?

Quite reasonably, a launch vehicle capable of taking a payload to orbit is always regulated by ITAR, in part because there is no appreciable difference between that and an ICBM.

But ITAR applies to both data and hardware -- even data which is widely known and not restricted by secret classification or by any other law, and which is legal to transmit to any citizen. This can make international cooperation difficult, and a number of Space Stackexchange questions have gone unanswered because the answer would be ITAR-restricted.

I understand that in at least some cases, ITAR-restriction of data can be reduced if the data is not related to military applications / not produced under a military contract, and if it is published publically from the start.

Could this extend to the degree of developing and publishing a complete, flight-tested open source design for a launch vehicle and/or spaceship on, say, Github?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Can I make a completely ITAR-free spaceship? $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ If the vehicle itself is ITAR restricted, the design more than likely is as well. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 21:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh yes, correct $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ Why not leave the US? Groups like Copenhagen Suborbitals seem rather liberal with the data they share, and I haven't seen any news reports of them getting in trouble. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 8:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek has it here. ITAR is a set of US regulations. If you start outside the US (note: this precludes you being a US citizen), then you cannot possibly violate ITAR unless the information enters and leaves the US. That probably also rules out Github... $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 14:30

2 Answers 2



The closest thing we have to using ITAR to regulate "software" would be 3D printed gun CAD files. Specifically a company called Defense Distributed makes CAD files for 3D printed guns and the US government used ITAR to stop them from distributing the files online

On Thursday, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson received a letter from the State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance demanding that he take down the online blueprints for the 3D-printable "Liberator" handgun that his group released Monday, along with nine other 3D-printable firearms components hosted on the group's website Defcad.org. The government says it wants to review the files for compliance with arms export control laws known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. By uploading the weapons files to the Internet and allowing them to be downloaded abroad, the letter implies Wilson's high-tech gun group may have violated those export controls.

"Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled," reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. "This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements."

This created a long-running legal battle that saw the Feds give in in 2018

The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the Second Amendment Foundation and Defense Distributed, a collective that organizes, promotes, and distributes technologies to help home gun-makers. Under the agreement, which resolved a suit filed by the two groups in 2015, Americans may "access, discuss, use, reproduce or otherwise benefit from the technical data" that the government had previously ordered Defense Distributed to cease distributing.

The files are (as of 2020) available online again (it's complicated still, but that's outside the scope of Space.SE).

Rockets != Guns

For starters, the Second Amendment doesn't apply to rockets.

Relativity Space uses CAD files to 3D print rocket engines, and they are subject in some regards to ITAR

“We’ve developed our own custom software tools to just streamline those workflows, that really helped,” Ellis said. “Also, just being more of a cloud-enabled company, while still complying with ITAR and security protocols, has been really, really advantageous as well.”

That's the only quote from them regarding ITAR I can find. There's no indication what parts of their rocket are subject to it. So it's possible that the CAD files themselves are not subject to ITAR (Relativity isn't exactly using a printer you can just run out and buy, unlike Defense Distributed). And the design of rocket engines isn't exactly that much of a secret (or the Russians wouldn't have sold us theirs). But we're talking CAD files. The software to launch a rocket is still something you have to get right. I could see ITAR being used to force it to be removed. The question there is would someone be crazy enough to build a rocket using open-source software that isn't flight-proven?

We probably won't know until someone tries

My Magic 8-Ball says "Signs point to no", but there's no on-point precedent. Either way, the US tends to err on the side of "All rockets are subject to ITAR".


The answer is no. See 22 CFR 120.34(a)(7) for the definition of Public Domain. The drawings would need to be approved for release by the cognizant U.S. gov't agency.


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