7
$\begingroup$

Notice: For clarity, not all amateur projects are off topic, just those that represent intent to perform work matching the bulleted list below.

Why are questions about my personal amateur space project off topic? I want to ask a question about

  • Building a rocket engine to launch myself or some other cargo into orbit
  • Developing/storing a fuel for my rocket
  • Any other type of life-threatening amateur work in or around space exploration (i.e. sending yourself to the moon or Mars)
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I saw a topic where someone asked about mixing rocket fuel for an amateur project and somebody explained the basics of how to manufacture hypergolic propellant and store it... The guy could easily kill himself with that knowledge. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 17 '18 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ was this intended to be so broad as to capture space.stackexchange.com/questions/30570/… ? $\endgroup$ – JCRM Sep 9 '18 at 15:05
12
$\begingroup$

Advice about dangerous personal amateur projects is off-topic

Understand that space exploration is inherently dangerous. While there are some foolhardy people who have done amateur work in this area, the Space.SE community has decided that we will not help people engaged in amateur endeavors to get into low orbit and/or space--at least where it concerns engine development, fuel storage or development, or any other life-threatening activity.

Building a successful space project is hard

SpaceX pad explosion, Sept, 2016

That's a rocket blowing up on the pad. That was in 2016, and from a professional company. Space programs don't just happen. They often involve some of the best and brightest minds in the world putting everything humanity knows about rockets and space flight to work. And those programs are still littered with failures.

We don't believe this work can be done safely by amateurs

A lot of stuff involved is not just dangerous for you, but anyone near you as well. Rocket fuel can cause large explosions which is why manufacturing and testing is done in remote areas. If something goes wrong, it limits damage and casualties. The same goes for rocket launches. If your launch vehicle fails, it will cause a lot of damage wherever it crashes.

There's legal considerations as well

In the United States, the FAA regulates launches and the FCC regulates satellites. In addition, it may be illegal to discuss

[For people in the United States], discussing specific engineering details of rockets and launch vehicles in a forum that can be accessed by non-US persons is illegal, as it runs afoul of ITAR restrictions (specifically ITAR part 121, Category IV (a) (1-2)). This restriction applies whether or not the person discussing is a professional. Broad, textbook-level discussion of launch vehicle engineering is okay, but sharing detailed engineering knowledge gets into murky legal territory.

There is an exclusion for "model and high power rockets ... made of paper, wood, fiberglass, or plastic containing no substantial metal parts and designed to be flown with hobby rocket motors that are certified for consumer use" (emphasis added). Homebrew rocket motors and the design thereof already is subject to ITAR, and US persons discussing them in open forums do so at their own legal risk.

There may be other local/state/country authorities (depending on where you are in the world) that you will need approval of to even attempt a launch. Space.SE is not a place to ask legal or regulatory questions.

Leave it to the pros

It's hard to believe that the commercial space industry is less than 20 years old and commercially available flights into orbit may soon come to fruition. But this work is still very dangerous. Let the pros handle things.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Also worth pointing out that (for US persons at least), discussing specific engineering details of rockets and launch vehicles in a forum that can be accessed by non-US persons is illegal, as it runs afoul of ITAR restrictions (specifically ITAR part 121, Category IV (a) (1-2). This restriction applies whether or not the person discussing is a professional. Broad, textbook-level discussion of launch vehicle engineering is okay, but sharing detailed engineering knowledge gets into murky legal territory. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Jul 18 '18 at 17:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Because I ran out of room, Note 3 of ITAR part 121, Category IV (a) has a specific exclusion for "model and high power rockets ... made of paper, wood, fiberglass, or plastic containing no substantial metal parts and designed to be flown with hobby rocket motors that are certified for consumer use" (emphasis added). Homebrew rocket motors and the design thereof already is subject to ITAR, and US persons discussing them in open forums do so at their own legal risk. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Jul 18 '18 at 18:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm fine if you want to incorporate my comments into the answer under the legal considerations heading, if only to keep everything coalesced into a single writeup rather than competing answers :-) $\endgroup$ – Tristan Jul 18 '18 at 19:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've added it with a link to that section $\endgroup$ – Machavity Jul 18 '18 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ I was half expecting the "rocket fuel can cause large explosions" part to link to this explosion. $\endgroup$ – Sean Mar 30 '19 at 20:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sean The previous link died so I replaced it with yours $\endgroup$ – Machavity Mar 30 '19 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ technically a "fast fire" (we're told) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 31 '19 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ I find this frustrating, and while it's the privilege of the operators of StackExchange to do as they will, I don't approve of it. I wonder how practical it would be to create a web forum that's readily joinable but limited to US citizens (or citizens of allies of the USA if that's included under ITAR) for discussing ITAR topics. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Nov 26 '19 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ @ikrase If you have a gripe or concern, the place to discuss is this meta post $\endgroup$ – Machavity Nov 26 '19 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Machavity is that post not specifically more focused on people intent on doing something they are clearly unprepared to do, not just something more hazardous than this site is interested in discussing? $\endgroup$ – ikrase Nov 27 '19 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @ikrase It would be massively impractical. Maintaining ITAR data is painful enough in the walled garden of a corporate intranet. I even have to keep ITAR stuff locked in a drawer when I leave my desk, and that's in a reasonably secure building. Here are some things you'd have to do: 1) encrypt all data, not just in transit but at rest as well, 2) ensure positive documentary verifcation of the US Person status of every user (even US citizens can be non-US Persons for these purposes if they work for a non-US company), 3) set up, maintain, and regularly audit an access control plan. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Dec 10 '19 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Tristan Sounds annoyingly expensive, but still potentially incredibly valuable if it could be set up. I originally thought of this issue when I was trying to discuss thermal imaging, not rockets. Is any level of internationalism (i.e. to close allies of the USA) possible with such a plan? Of course, in real life, it seems quite certain that the vast majority of all knowledge covered by ITAR is going to be totally beyond control. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Dec 12 '19 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @ikrase no, there is basically no room for that. Every discussion of a covered technology with a non-US person is considered an export and requires a license sanctioned by the US Department of State. ITAR violations carry fines up to $500,000 and prison sentences up to 20 years. Corporations have entire departments set up to ensure compliance with export regulations. A web forum would have nearly no chance of successfully navigating these restrictions. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Dec 12 '19 at 15:07
4
$\begingroup$

Machavity is spot-on. I would add one more point:

Even if you are an authorized and responsible person, there are other people out there who are not

Even if it were somehow okay for us to discuss these matters with the specific person asking the question, keep in mind that this site is readable by the public. We don't want some 13-year-old to try something dangerous that they found here. That's why we won't make exceptions.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I don't entirely see how that follows - that's probably the case for i.e. solid rocket chemistry, but for most things in the world of rocketry you're going to need rather more credentials and effort even just to hurt yourself. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Nov 26 '19 at 4:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .