Hoping to Leave Earth in a Home-Built Spaceship? Start the Paperwork Now

Volunteers Ed Keinle and Lou Thole remove rivets from the Avrocar in the restoration hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

People need licenses to operate cars, boats and airplanes. In order to actually use home-built versions of those vehicles, they must be registered and inspected.

But what if you've set your sights higher? Much, much higher.

The bureaucracy has you there too. But you aren't just making a stop at the Department of Motor Vehicles -- you're probably going to have to review some international treaties as well.

Depending on the country from which you're blasting off, you should first review the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, also known as "the Outer Space Treaty." This is the foundation of Space Law.

The United Nations wants to make sure you aren't going to bring any nuclear weapons into outer space. The moon and other extraterrestrial bodies are for peaceful purposes only.

And don't plan on staking a claim there, either. The Space Force might soon arrive to evict you. According to the Outer Space Treaty, you need your home government's permission to be there.

However you get that approval, it will likely involve an inspection of your space vehicle by some kind of federal agency, likely NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration. If your garage-built spaceship will only make it halfway up and then crash into the ocean, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

Avrocar Diagram
Cutaway drawing of the Avrocar showing its major components. (U.S. Air Force)

Once the FAA and NASA are certain the vehicle won't randomly crush a village in Cambodia from low-earth orbit, you'll need to file a flight plan with the FAA, like any other airborne vehicle.

After that, your flight plan will need to be reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that your craft and its comms don't pose a risk to existing commercial and government satellite operations.

Once you've somehow cleared all that bureaucracy for your orbital soapbox racer, you need to decide whether you're going to take photos. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requires a permit for live broadcasts of our home planet.

Congratulations on your home-built plan to slip the surly bonds of Earth. Here's hoping government bureaucracy isn't a stronger force than gravity -- but it probably is.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com.

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