On 29 July 2020 the UK Government announced the launch of its public consultation on regulations implementing the Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA 2018). The SIA 2018 is the legislative framework that will underpin the UK's commercial spaceflight programme. A key aspect of this framework will be the regulations governing the launch of spacecraft from the UK, which is currently planned to commence in the first half of the 2020s.
This consultation follows the Queen's Speech in October 2019, in which the UK Government set out its proposals for development of the space sector, including the establishment of a new Cabinet-level National Space Council and a new comprehensive UK Space Strategy to boost funding and lead innovation1. The UK Government, working with industry under the Space Growth Partnership, seeks to increase the UK's share of the global space market to 10% by 20302. Its current share of the global market is currently estimated to be 5.1%, with a value of £14.8bn3.
A key part of this strategy is the UK's spaceflight programme, which aims to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launches from spaceports in the UK. There are currently seven prospective spaceport locations in the UK, including a horizontal launch facility in Newquay in the south, and a vertical launch facility in Sutherland in the north4. An important recent development in this regard was the signing in June 2020 of the US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement, which will govern the transfer from the US to the UK of US launch technology controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime and enable US companies to conduct launches from UK soil.
Space activities of UK entities are currently governed by the Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA 1986), which requires licences in order to procure an overseas launch of a satellite or to operate a satellite in orbit. Once the new regulatory regime comes into place, the OSA 1986 will continue to regulate the procurement of launches outside the UK and the operation of satellites from facilities outside the UK. The SIA 2018 meanwhile will regulate the following UK-based activities: launches, returns, operation of a satellite in orbit, operation of a spaceport and the provision of range control services.
A key proposed change is the transfer of the spaceflight regulator role from the UK Space Agency to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA will therefore be responsible for all SIA 2018 regulatory functions as well as regulating in-orbit activities under the OSA 1986. The reason for this transfer, according to the consultation document, is the established policy of separating safety regulation from sector promotion.
The consultation covers three sets of draft regulations, a number of draft guidance documents for industry and certain regulator guidelines and licensing rules. The key piece of legislation is the Space Industry Regulations, covering licensing (of the UK-based activities mentioned above), compliance, monitoring, safety and security. This includes, among other things, specific provisions to implement the UK's commitments under the Safeguards Agreement mentioned above. The other pieces of legislation cover accident investigations and appeals against certain decisions under the OSA 1986 and the SIA 2018.
The consultation document makes clear that safety is central to the new regulatory regime, given that launches from the UK and commercial spaceflight are new activities. The regulations do not aim to impose detailed prescriptive requirements, but instead to adopt a proportionate and outcomes-based approach. In particular, those seeking licences will be required to show that the risks their activities pose to the uninvolved general public are as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) and at a level acceptable to the regulator.
Another key aspect of the new regime will be liability for spaceflight activity. Under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, the UK is liable for damage caused to the persons or property of other countries by space activities that are carried out by UK nationals or from UK territory or facilities. In line with the current position under the OSA 1986, the SIA 2018 will require a person engaging in spaceflight activities to indemnify the Government from any claims for damage caused by those activities. It will also go further than the OSA 1986 by placing strict liability on operators carrying out spaceflight activities in the UK (not including spaceport operation or range control services), to allow the uninvolved general public to bring a claim against the operator for any injury or damage they suffer without having to prove fault. The consultation covers certain provisions that implement this regime in the SIA 2018.
The consultation period will close on 21 October 2020. The consultation document says that most of the secondary legislation is expected to be in place by the end of 2021, although this is acknowledged to be an ambitious timeframe. If the UK Government plans to commence launches in the first half of the 2020s, an effective regulatory regime will be a critical prerequisite to this, as well as a key ingredient in the future growth of the UK space sector. As UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said, "Getting the rules in place for space launches from UK territory may seem like one small step. But it paves the way for a giant leap in the development of our space sector"5.
1 The Queen's Speech and Associated Background Briefing on the Occasion of the Opening of Parliament on Monday 14 October 2019, available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/
2 See the website of the Space Growth Partnership at: https://www.spacepartnership.org.uk/
4 How we are promoting and regulating spaceflight from the UK, available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-we-are-promoting-and-regulating-spaceflight-from-the-uk
5 Giant leap for UK spaceflight programme as consultation launches, www.gov.uk, 29 July 2020, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/giant-leap-for-uk-spaceflight-programme-as-consultation-launches?utm_source=6a05a120-d753-472b-ac05-8f10a709061c&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate