What is a Hybrid-Aerospace vehicle?
Hybrid-aerospace vehicles are vehicles or systems which are capable of operating within national or international airspace, as well as operating in outer space.
A hybrid-aerospace vehicle will be characterised as an ‘aircraft’, at some point in its flight, and as a spacecraft, either at different points, concurrently or both.
Well-known examples of hybrid-aerospace vehicles include:
When is my vehicle considered an ‘aircraft’?
Unlike the definition of spacecraft, the term ‘aircraft’ is defined internationally by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Member states of ICAO are generally required to follow this definition.
What is ICAO?
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a UN specialised agency and the foremost international authority on civil aviation. The ICAO was formed to administer the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (‘Chicago Convention‘), a treaty with 193 member states including Australia.
Article 37 of the Chicago Convention allows the ICAO Council to create Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) in relation to civil aviation rules, these are created in the form of ‘annexes’ to the Chicago Convention.
As a signatory to the Chicago Convention, Australia follows the International Civil Aviation Organization’s definition of ‘aircraft’.
DEFINITION OF ‘AIRCRAFT’
Any machine or craft that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air, other than the reactions of the air against the earth’s surface.
This definition highlights the importance of air in an aircraft’s function and is likely the primary point of distinction from a spacecraft.
When is my vehicle considered a ‘spacecraft’?
No international consensus exists on a definition for ‘spacecraft’.
However, there is a well-supported view that a ‘spacecraft’ is an object with the capability to move in outer space, both orbital and sub-orbital, without the support of air and with a power source that is not dependent on oxygen.
Where does outer space begin?
Part of the difficulty in assessing if a vehicle is considered a ‘spacecraft’ is that there is no international consensus on where outer space begins and where national airspace ends. Clearly, a vehicle which can manoeuvre in orbit around the Earth would be considered a ‘spacecraft’.
However, below this point, it is unclear whether a craft is clearly operating in ‘space’ in a legal sense. Under the Space-Specific Treaties, there is no state sovereignty in outer space, meaning that when a state’s national airspace ends, so does their territorial sovereignty. Naturally, this means states are hesitant to define this point.
Is my vehicle a space object?
The Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS) regulates a broader category of objects known as a ‘space object’, without specifically mentioning or defining the term ‘spacecraft’. Any object being launched beyond a distance of 100km above mean sea level, including a spacecraft, will be regulated as a ‘space object’.
DEFINITION OF ‘SPACE OBJECT’
In Australia, a ‘space object’ is any object, or any part of an object, which travel beyond a distance of 100km above mean sea level. This definition would potentially include satellites, spacecraft and any object that travel beyond the 100km demarcation.
What do I need to register?
There is a requirement both in Australia and internationally for states to keep a register of aircraft operating in their airspace. Similarly, any space object authorised or permitted by the Australian government must also be registered nationally and internationally.
As a member of ICAO, Australia is required to register civilian aircraft that operate within its territory. In Australia, this register is maintained by CASA and operators must apply to them in order to register their aircraft.
This means that if your launch system has a stage which involves a powered aircraft, you may be required to register that component as an aircraft.
For more information on the national registry, click here.
Space object registration
As a party to the 1975 Registration Convention, Australia is obligated to register space objects under its responsibility into a national register, as well as an international register maintained by the United Nations Secretary-General.
Under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS), the national space object registry will be maintained by the Minister of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. A registrant will likely need to provide this information to the Australian Space Agency.
In registering a space object, the information required is set out in the Space (Launches and Returns) (General) Rules 2019 (AUS), this includes:
- the information about the orbital parameters of the space object mentioned in paragraph 1(d) of Article IV of the Registration Convention;
- if a country other than Australia is a launching state for the space object—whether the other launching state has indicated it wishes to register the space object;
- a report on the compliance of the launch with the launch safety standards in the Flight Safety Code and with the assumptions and data used in the risk hazard analysis for the launch.
Regulations on launch vehicles
If your hybrid-aerospace vehicle contains a launch component involving a rocket, you will be subject to both Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (‘CASR’) (AUS) and Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS) and its regulations.
Both legal instruments regulate when and how you can operate a rocket, as well as the conditions you may operate it in.
How does aviation law apply to my rocket?
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is the authority in charge of regulating the use and safety of Australian airspace. If you intend to launch either a high power rocket or a space object within Australian airspace, you will need to comply with the operating conditions set out under the CASR.
What Civil Aviation Safety Regulations apply to my rocket?
Part 101.H of the CASR regulates and limits the operating of launches in Australia. Under Part 101.H, your rocket will be considered a high power rocket if it:
- Has a weight greater than 1.5kg; and
- Has a total impulse greater than 320 Newtons; or
- Is a ‘commercial rocket’ including:
- Sounding rockets;
- Space launchers;
- Sub-orbital rockets;
- Rockets capable of exceeding an altitude of 60,000 feet.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW
The definition of ‘high power rocket’ under the CASR is broader than the definition under the Space (Launches and Returns) (High Power Rocket) Rules 2019 (AUS).
Unlike the Rules, a high power rocket under the CASR will be any rocket that is heavier than 1.5kg and has a greater total impulse than 320N.
Civil aviation conditions for high power rockets
In general, approval will have to be sought from CASA or the relevant air traffic controller when operating a high power rocket under the following circumstances:
- Launches beyond a distance of 400 feet above ground level;
- Launches beyond a distance of 400 feet above ground level and within 3 nautical miles (or 5.5km) of an aerodrome;
- Launching into controlled airspace;
- Launching into restricted or prohibited airspace; and/or
- Launching at night, into a cloud or in conditions other than visual meteorological conditions.
Any potential high power rocket operators will need certification from an Approved Aviation Administration Organisation.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW
Operators of high power rockets are required to have high power rocket certification through an Approved Aviation Administration Organisation.
CASA does not specify which organisations these are but they have noted that certifications from foreign providers such as the National Association of Rocketry, the Canadian Association of Rocketry or Tripoli Rocketry Association would be suitable.
Prohibitions when operating a high power rocket
CASA restricts certain conduct during the operation. These restrictions may require more active engagement in the launch of the high power rocket by an operator, they include:
- Launching into restricted or prohibited airspace, except with approval from the authority controlling the area;
- Dropping or discharging anything from the high power rocket that may be a hazard to an aircraft;
- Operating the high power rocket in any way that may be hazardous to aircraft, another person or property.
For information on where you may launch a high power rocket, view our article on aviation law.
What space regulations apply to my rocket?
Unlike the CASR, separate permits are required for the launch of a high power rocket and the launch of a space object under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS). You will need to consider what you are attempting to launch and where.
The permits you require under the legislation and its regulations will largely depend on your payload, your launch vehicle and the location of your launch.
Depending on the type of rocket, payload and location of your launch, you may require the following permits and licenses:
- Launch facility license – required for operating at a launch facility in Australia, including mobile facilities such as aircraft.
- Australian launch permit – a pre-condition for launching space objects in Australia.
- Australian high power rocket permit – a pre-condition for launching a rocket that does not go beyond a distance of 100km above mean sea level.
- Overseas payload permit – a pre-condition for Australian nationals seeking to launch a space object from a launch facility external to Australia.
For more information, see our article on launch.
High power rockets under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018
If you intend to launch a high power rocket, you will generally be required to have a high power rocket permit.
Under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS) and its regulations, a rocket will be considered a high power rocket if:
- The rocket does not travel beyond a distance of 100km above mean sea level; and
- It is propelled by motors with a combined impulse greater than 889,600 Newton seconds; or
- It is a rocket propelled by a motor or motors with a combined total impulse greater than 40,960 Newton seconds and is fitted with a system or systems that allow active control of its trajectory.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW
Applications for High Power Rocket activity will not be assessed until the commencement of the Space (Launches and Returns) (High Power Rocket) Rules 2019 (AUS) on 30 June 2020. In the meantime, current regulations for high power rockets will remain in place.
For more information on the current civil aviation safety rules regulating high power rocketry, click here.
Launching a Space Object
If you intend to launch an object, including a spacecraft, beyond a distance of 100km above mean sea level in Australia you will need to obtain either a launch permit or an authorisation certificate.
As opposed to a high power rocket, the requirement of a launch permit, payload permit or an authorisation certificate is based on the payload of the launch vehicle, as opposed to the capability of the launch vehicle itself.
For more information on obtaining a launch permit, authorisation certificate or an overseas payload permit, click here.
USE CASE EXAMPLE: HIGH POWER ROCKETS
On 22 August 2020, Angels Aerospace seeks to operate a two-stage launch system including a first-stage rocket and a second-stage sub-orbital scramjet. The rocket has a total impulse of 650,000 Newton seconds and plans to release the scramjet at a distance of 75km above mean sea level.
- The rocket lacks the total impulse (889,600 Newton seconds) to be considered a high power rocket under the Space (Launches and Returns) (High Power Rocket) Rules 2019 (AUS). However, it will still be considered a High Power Rocket under those rules if it contains an active control system.
- As the scramjet payload is not travelling beyond 100km above mean sea level, a High Power Rocket permit will generally be required.
- The total impulse of the rocket (and proportionate weight) means it is almost certainly a High Power Rocket under the Civil Aviation Regulations and will be subject to the corresponding conditions.
USE CASE EXAMPLE: SPACE OBJECT LAUNCH
Angels Aerospace has been testing a revolutionary craft that can take off like an aircraft, deliver a payload into Low-Earth Orbit and return to Earth. It wants to put a small satellite into orbit using this craft in the near future.
- To be classified as a launch of a space object, the launch vehicle does not need to be a rocket.
- As the craft will deliver the payload into LEO, Angels Aerospace will require a launch facility license for the craft, and either a launch permit or an authorisation certificate.
- If the operation is completed overseas by Angels Aerospace, a payload permit may be required.
- Angels Aerospace will also need to comply with general flight and operating rules whilst the vehicle operates as an aircraft.
Some hybrid-aerospace systems may involve a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) component, or in the case of the Boeing X-37B, an autonomous unmanned aircraft component. As the regulator of Australian civil aviation safety, CASA is the primary regulator with respect to unmanned aircraft.
How do I operate an autonomous vehicle in Australia?
Autonomous vehicles are vehicles which have no human intervention at any stage during their flight. CASA has identified RPAs as their primary regulatory focus with respect to unmanned aircraft, as such comprehensive regulations on autonomous vehicles are not currently within their scope of reform.
Remotely piloted aircraft/Drones
If you are operating a multi-stage launch system that includes a remotely piloted aircraft component, you will likely be subject to CASA’s regulations on RPAs. RPAs or ‘drones’ are subject to operating conditions both recreationally and commercially.
What operating conditions am I subject to?
If you are operating an RPA commercially, or a purpose other than fun and recreation, you may need a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ReOC) or a Remote Pilot’s License (RePL). The types of conditions that apply are as follows:
- RPAs under 2kg – part of the ‘excluded’ category and subject to Standard Operating Conditions (SOCs).
- RPAs over 2kg – both a ReOC and a RePL is required and subject to General Operating Conditions (GOCs).
Registration for unmanned aircraft
CASA is developing a registration and accreditation scheme for those wishing to operate RPAs recreationally and domestically, however, this is not yet in effect.
An individual operating an RPA over 2kg will need to have a RePL and be employed by an entity (for example, a university) with a ReOC. Once obtained, you may need permission to fly from CASA.
Unless otherwise approved, operators will need to comply with the following General Operating Conditions:
The RPA is operated:
- by visual line of sight (VLOS) only – close enough to see, maintain orientation and achieve accurate flight and tracking.
- no higher than 400 ft/120 m above ground level.
The RPA is not operated:
- any closer than 30 m from people not associated with the flight
- any closer than 15 m from people who have consented to the RPA operating close to them
- within 3 nautical miles (5.5 km) of a controlled aerodrome
- in a prohibited area
- at night, unless in accordance with CASA approval.
- in or out of cloud.
- over populous areas.
- over the movement area or within the approach and departure paths of an aerodrome without approval from CASA.
- Only 1 RPA may be flown per pilot at any one time.
If your RPA is under 2kg in weight, you will not need a ReOC or a RePL.
However, you will be required to operate the RPA under these Standard Operating Conditions:
- by visual line of sight (VLOS) only – close enough to see, maintain orientation and achieve accurate flight and tracking
- no higher than 400ft (120m) above ground level
- during daytime only – effectively, not before sunrise or after sunset
The RPA may not be operated:
- any closer than 30m from people not associated with the flight.
- in a prohibited area or restricted area.
- over populous areas.
- within 3 nautical miles (or 5.5km) of the movement area of a controlled aerodrome – one with an operating control tower.
- in the area of a public safety operation without the approval of a person in charge of the operation.
- Only 1 RPA flown per pilot at any one time.
If you seek to operate outside of these SOCs, a ReOC and a RePL will be required.
The scheme will likely restrict the age of those who may operate an RPA, as well as including an accreditation fee and a compulsory education course. For more information on the scheme, click here.
Visit the CASA website for more information on what regulations apply to your unmanned aircraft:
Visit the Australian Space Agency page for updates on the space rules and regulations as they develop:
Read the Circular Advisory on Unmanned Aircraft and Rockets for a detailed breakdown on operating a high power rocket:
Frequently asked questions
States disagree on where outer space begins as it is essentially the end of their territorial sovereignty.
This means that different vehicles, such as orbital and sub-orbital vehicles, may be considered ‘spacecraft’ under different interpretations of where space begins, and airspace ends.
If you are planning to use a launch vehicle, you may be subject to mandatory insurance requirements for third-party loss or damage. See our article on liability and insurance for more information.
- Remotely Piloted Aircraft – there is currently no mandatory insurance required for drones, however, coverage for third-party loss/damage and damage to the RPA itself is generally advised.
- Carrier vehicles – CASA does not currently regulate hybrid space carriers such as SpaceShipOne, however, it may take the form of the mandatory insurance currently required for air carriers.
At the moment it is unclear how hybrid vehicles will be regulated.
The focus of the Australian Space Agency at the moment is regulatory reform on more traditional launch activities, as well as promoting the Australian space industry as a whole.
The regulations that apply may become clearer as the ASA and CASA work to define their roles on certain space activities.
What to do next
1. Contact the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to discuss the conditions that may apply to your hybrid-aerospace vehicle.
CASA’s primary concern is the safety of civil airspace in Australia which means that approval of experimental or untested technology may take extra time and may involve extra requirements. It is important to contact them early to discuss the capabilities and potential regulations that apply to your vehicle.
- For enquiries: email email@example.com or call 131 757
2. Contact the Australian Space Agency to discuss the regulations that may apply to your vehicle.
If your hybrid vehicle is not explicitly covered under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS) or its Regulations, it may be beneficial to contact the ASA early on what regulations may apply. The ASA would welcome this early contact and it may give you a greater hand in developing the regulations that apply to your new technology.
- For general enquires: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Obtain the necessary operator’s licenses
If your hybrid vehicle contains a rocket, aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft component, you will likely need to obtain the necessary operating licenses.
- Remotely Piloted Aircraft – May require a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ReOC) and a Remote Pilot’s License (RePL).
- High Power Rockets – May require the operators to hold a High Power Rocket certification from an Approved Aviation Administration Organisation.
- Aircraft – Depending on the type of aircraft including private, commercial or gliders, you will need a specific pilot’s license. In addition, if you are running a commercial operation you will need an air operator’s certificate.
4. Register your vehicle and/or its payload
- If your vehicle is considered an aircraft, it will need to be registered with CASA on its national register.
- If you are a permit holder under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 and the vehicle is carrying an object that will be considered a space object, you will need to register it with the Australian Space Agency.
5. Find an insurance provider to cover you from liability, damage and loss
- Launch – If you are operating a launch vehicle or launching a space object, insurance will be mandatory under the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018.
- Aircraft – If you are operating an air carrier, for example, a commercial transport carrier, you will similarly be required by CASA to take out insurance.
- Drones – You should consider taking out insurance to protect from damage or liability as a result of your remotely piloted aircraft.
6. Seek advice about any processes you are unsure about
As an operator of a hybrid-aerospace vehicle, you are ultimately operating in an area with little formal regulation. You should seek legal or professional advice if you are concerned about the regulation that may apply to you or the process in receiving approval.