Rules governing experimental permits for launching reusable suborbital rockets for space tourism were published by the US Federal Aviation Administration on 6 April.

The rules have major implications for the flight testing of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which should fly for the first time by May next year, and other space tourism vehicle hopefulls. Under the rules;

 -   A single experimental permit will cover multiple vehicles of a particular design and allow an unlimited number of launches

 -   The FAA will identify the type of design changes that may be made without invalidating the permit.

 -    The one-year permit is renewable following an FAA review. 

 -    None of the test flights covered by an experimental permit can carry passengers for compensation or for hire. 

 -    The new rules establish criteria for the physical area in which a vehicle with an experimental permit can operate.  The area, among other things, must be large enough to contain planned trajectories. It cannot contain or be adjacent to a densely populated area.

 -    As part of the application for a permit, a vehicle developer will need to provide a program description, a flight test plan, and operational safety documentation, including a hazard analysis and a plan for response to a mishap. 

-    The FAA has committed itself to ensuring its permit determinations are within 120 days compared to 180 days for an operating license.

"These rules represent another step forward for commercial human space flight. To help move this exciting industry from concept to reality, our goal is to streamline and facilitate the licensing process for flight testing under the experimental permit while maintaining public safety," says FAA administrator Marion Blakey. The new rules were mandated by the US Congress in the commercial space launch amendments act 2004.