Spaceports as Contractors

Spaceports are contractors. Not all spaceports are always contractors in all respects, but a lot of them are a lot of the time. If a spaceport is a contractor it has to enter into agreements with the launch operators launching from its site that neither the spaceport nor the launch operator will bring claims for damages against each other for harm arising out of licensed or permitted activity.

Under the Commercial Space Launch Act, 51 U.S.C. ch. 509, and its implementing financial responsibility regulations,14 C.F.R. part 440, a launch licensee or permittee must enter into reciprocal waivers of claims with each of its contractors involved in launch or reentry services. Chapter 509 defines launch and reentry services as activities involved in the preparation of a launch or reentry vehicle, payload, crew (including crew training), government astronaut, or space flight participant for launch or reentry; and the conduct of a launch or reentry.

Spaceports—which Chapter 509 terms launch and reentry sites, but I’ll use the vernacular here—satisfy the definition of a contractor under 14 C.F.R. § 440.3.  That section defines contractors to mean those entities that are involved at any level, directly or indirectly, in licensed or permitted activities, and include suppliers of property and services. Spaceports provide property and services, including launch pads, runways and launch services. Some spaceport business models allow for providing support services for payload integration, fueling, hot fire testing, and range safety. The FAA’s regulations in part 420 require spaceports that are launch site operators to coordinate their customers’ hazardous activities. A number of these coordination activities, including the scheduling of operations and notifications, may constitute launch services.

The financial responsibility requirements apply both to commercial and state spaceports. Under Chapter 509, the only spaceports that the FAA does not license are those operated by the federal government. Accordingly, both commercial and state spaceports need to be aware of their obligations under Chapter 509 and the FAA’s financial responsibility regulations.


2 thoughts on “Spaceports as Contractors

  1. Hi Laura,
    I came across your website and had a comment concerning your discussion about the spaceport as a contractor. I realize that there are financial considerations that are important but for safety purposes, the spaceport often has a responsibility to evaluate the launch operators activities and either approve or disapprove of them.

    A while ago, while working on the Body of Knowledge (BOK) for Spaceports (, I prepared this short paper based on the part 420 requirements as it relates to both the launch operator and the space launch site operator. Stating that the spaceport is simply a “contractor” oversimplifies the safety responsibilities of the spaceport which are required under the launch license. Here’s the document I prepared.
    Coordination Between the Launch Operator
    and the Launch Site Operator Required by Part 420
    Herbert Bachner
    Prepared for the New Mexico State University Spaceport Document Management System

    a. For a launch from a launch site licensed under part 420, a launch operator must—
    (1) Conduct its operations as required by any agreements that the launch site operator has with any Federal and local authorities under part 420 of this chapter; and
    (2) Coordinate with the launch site operator and provide any information on its activities and potential hazards necessary for the launch site operator to determine how to protect any other launch operator, person, or property at the launch site as required by the launch site operator’s obligations under § 420.55 of this chapter.
    b. A launch operator must maintain and document a safety organization. A launch operator must identify lines of communication and approval authority for all public safety decisions, including those regarding design, operations, and analysis. A launch operator must describe its lines of communication, both within the launch operator’s organization and between the launch operator and any federal launch range or other launch site operator providing launch services, in writing.
    c. A launch operator must identify any proposed facility modifications or operational changes that may affect a launch site operator’s explosive site plan.
    d. Part 417.11 paragraph 8f (3) Identifies agreements and procedures for coordinating use of radio frequencies with any launch site operator and any local and Federal authorities, including the Federal Communications Commission.
    e. The launch operator must communicate with the local Coast Guard and the FAA ATC office or equivalent local authorities, either directly or through any launch site operator, to ensure that notices to airmen and mariners are issued and in effect at the time of flight.
    f. The launch operator must coordinate test plans and all associated test procedures with any launch site operator or local authorities, as required by local agreements, associated with the operation;
    g. Flight safety crew members must complete a training and certification program to ensure launch site familiarization, launch vehicle familiarization, flight safety system functions, equipment, and procedures related to a launch before being called upon to support that launch.
    h. A launch operator must coordinate and perform launch processing and post-launch operations that satisfy local agreements to ensure the responsibilities and requirements in this part and § 420.57 of this chapter are met. A launch operator, when using a launch site of a licensed launch site operator, must coordinate the launch operator’s operations with the launch site operator and with any agreements that the launch site operator has with local authorities that form a basis for the launch site operator’s license.
    i. A launch operator must incorporate the launch site operator’s systems and operations involved in ensuring public safety into the ground safety analysis.
    j. A launch operator must ensure that (1) The explosive site plan satisfies part 420 of this chapter; Part 420 is the launch site license requirement.
    k. A launch operator must determine the vulnerability of its electro-explosive devices and systems to radio frequency radiation and establish radio frequency radiation power limits or radio frequency radiation exclusion areas as required by the launch site operator or to ensure safety.
    Hope to see you at a future meeting.

    All the best,


  2. Hi Herb,

    I definitely agree that the spaceport plays a safety role, and 14 CFR part 420 is the right place to start looking to find those obligations. Here, I wanted to emphasize a point that sometimes seems to get lost in the shuffle, namely, that under the financial responsibility requirements, the spaceport is a contractor, and, as your comment emphasizes, involved in launch services.

    Thanks for stopping by! It’s good to hear from you.

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