From time to time spacecraft cross our atmosphere, either climbing to space or returning from space. While the probability for a collision is tiny, it is certainly not null, especially during reentry, when the trajectory is not vertical and can cover hundreds of kilometers at aircraft altitudes.

Is there any coordination to prevent collisions between spacecraft and aircraft?

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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Sep 13, 2017 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


A TFR will be issued for the area that the spacecraft is expected to need for safety. Here is an example.

No pilots may operate an aircraft in the areas covered by this NOTAM (except as described).

No exceptions are described, and the airspace is patrolled (at least for manned launches). As with errant sea vessels, a launch may have to be scrubbed if the safety area is compromised.

The company or agency in charge of the space flight operation would need to contact the FAA to coordinate such a TFR.

For space shuttle landings, Special Use Airspace was established. The shuttle landed in a pretty steep profile, so it only spent a relatively short time in controlled airspace. ATC coordinated directly with NASA while the shuttle was transiting the airspace.

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    $\begingroup$ What about something like Apollo 11? It splashed down in the middle of nowhere, about 250 miles south of Johnston Atoll. Does anyone even have jurisdiction to say "No pilots pay operate an aircraft" there? $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2017 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Also, your answer is very US-specific. I doubt the Roscosmos co-ordinates with the FAA when they're launching something from Baikonur. ;-) $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2017 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby great points $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Sep 13, 2017 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby over international waters no country has the authority to say "no aircraft may operate here", but they can issue NOTAMs and activate Warning Areas, which effectively say "it would be a bad idea to operate your aircraft here, and don't say we didn't tell you". Each country can also bind flights operating under their flag to respect all countries' warning areas, and most do. And they can issue suitable clearances to traffic operating IFR in their oceanic FIRs (i.e. ~all civil transoceanic traffic). See also ICAO. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2017 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby: Besides the other, few people are silly enough to mess with the airspace claimed by an aircraft carrier without a really good reason. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Dec 3, 2018 at 19:01

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