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Spaceflight Regulations: Consultation

Volume 679: debated on Tuesday 1 September 2020

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, made the following ministerial statement on 29 July 2020.

I am today publishing the consultation on draft regulations and guidance made under the 2018 Space Industry Act. This consultation seeks views on the operability and effectiveness of the draft space industry regulations, accident investigation regulations, appeals regulations, and the associated guidance documents and regulator’s licensing rules. As part of this consultation, a consultation stage impact assessment has also been published.

The UK’s space sector is already a unique national asset—which this Government are committed to turbo-charging. The UK’s space sector can strengthen our national capabilities, create high-skilled jobs and level up the UK. To support this, the Queen’s Speech on 19 December set out the Government’s intent to establish a new National Space Council and develop a comprehensive UK space strategy. The launch of this consultation and the introduction of a new regulatory framework form an integral part of the work we are doing to bring commercial spaceflight to the UK and create a supportive regulatory environment which fosters growth in the sector.

Government and industry have set a target to grow the UK’s share of the global market to 10% by 2030. In order to support this, our spaceflight programme aims to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch, sub-orbital spaceflight and space tourism from UK spaceports. To help expand the UK’s spaceflight capabilities, the Government are funding a range of industry-led projects. Separately, we are also investing in related facilities and technology. This will provide industry with new commercial market opportunities, grow our export share and help to build new UK supply chains.

As acknowledged in the Government’s research and development road map, regulation that enables the development, demonstration and deployment of new technologies is essential to championing companies on the technological frontier. Our regulatory framework for spaceflight will support safe and sustainable activities that will drive research, innovation and entrepreneurship in this vital sector, exploiting the unique environment of space, and providing a catalyst for growth across the space sector. This will feed into our emerging national space strategy as we develop further priorities for the UK and the sector in the long term and contribute this Government’s agenda to level-up the whole country.

Enabling UK-based space launches

Currently the space activities of UK entities are governed by the Outer Space Act 1986. This requires any UK entities who procure the launch of a satellite and/or operate a satellite in orbit to hold a licence. The UK has a well-established and globally respected licensing regime for these activities. However, UK satellite operators currently have to rely on obtaining slots on launches from other countries to get their satellites in orbit. Our aim now is to license launches from UK spaceports. I expect to see the first UK-based launches during the early 2020s.

While the Space Industry Act 2018 is now law, the draft secondary legislation contained in this consultation is required to create the regulatory framework necessary for commercial launch operations to be licensed in the UK. Once regulations are in force, the Space Industry Act 2018 will work alongside the Outer Space Act 1986 to regulate the spaceflight and associated activities of UK entities.

Together with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority we have legislated to allow for the regulation of a wide range of new commercial spaceflight technologies, including traditional vertically launched vehicles, air-launched vehicles and sub-orbital spaceplanes and balloons. We have endeavoured to produce legislation that is flexible enough to accommodate emerging technological advancements, market opportunities and changes to the international legal landscape, while keeping safety at the forefront.

To ensure that these services are carried out safely and responsibly, we are creating a new regulator for commercial spaceflight and associated activities. It is our intention that the Civil Aviation Authority will undertake all Space Industry Act 2018 regulatory functions in addition to regulating in-orbit activities under the Outer Space Act 1986.

Next steps

The deadline for responses to consultation is 21 October 2020. Following which I will update the House and publish the Government’s response to consultation.