UK follows US path, introduces Bill to boost space commercialization

UK follows US path, introduces Bill to boost space commercialization

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UK Bill space commercialization
The Space Industry Bill enables commercial spaceflight activities (both launch to orbit and sub‐orbit spaceflight) to be carried out from spaceports in the United Kingdom. Photo Credit: Spaceflight Insider

Low-cost access to space, rapid innovations, and ride sharing opportunities has given the inevitable thrust to space commercialization. The shift from large players to opening up of space market to various private players is the new transformation that the space industry is witnessing right now. It is this trend that the governments all over the world are encouraging and want to take advantage of.

In the recent times, the US has clearly shown its keenness towards deep space explorations and commercial viability of space, the UK wants to join the bandwagon too.

In a bid to make UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial space activities, the UK government announced the Space Industry Bill that provides for the creation of a regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight activities (both launch to orbit and sub‐orbit spaceflight) to be carried out from spaceports in the United Kingdom.

In UK, to launch any object into space, operate a space object or engage in any activity in outer space, it is mandatory to have a license. The details of licensing arrangements are elaborately mentioned in the Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA), which was enacted primarily to implement United Kingdom obligations under the UN Space Treaties. Launches licensed under OSA have, to date, involved the licensing of small satellites overseas.

Objective of the Bill

The main motive of Space Industry Bill is to modify the framework of the Outer Space Act 1986.  The Bill itself is based on the draft Spaceflight Bill published on February 21, 2017, together with the government’s responses to the Science and Technology Committee Report on the February draft, the Space Industry Bill was issued in June.

The Bill includes the following provisions: 

  • To establish a framework for the regulation of spaceflight and associated activities in the UK, in line with the UK’s obligations under the UN space treaties.
  • To set up a new spaceflight licensing regime and prohibit unlicensed spaceflight activities.
  • To protect the safety and security for spaceflight activities. This includes the creation of new offenses against the safety of a spacecraft, such as hijacking, and the application of UK criminal law to spacecraft.
  • To establish the extent to which spaceflight operators are liable for injury or damage; the powers of the Secretary of State to indemnify against those liabilities; the requirement for spaceflight operators to have insurance.
  • To prevent individuals from taking part in space activities without their informed consent or without appropriate training, qualifications or proven medical fitness.
  • To grant powers to the Secretary of State in relation land for the purposes of spaceflight activity.
  • To require a register of space launches in the UK be maintained.

Bill will facilitate in opening up market

Low-cost access to space will be the game-changing technology which will open up the market and commercial opportunities.

For many years the UK has been a world leader in satellite technology, services, and applications, particularly in designing and manufacturing small satellites. Companies such as Clyde Space and SSTL are world leaders in the industry. What UK industry has been missing is the UK’s own launch capability to avoid the reliance and dependence on foreign suppliers for launching its spacecraft.

The Bill will enable the launch of small satellites from the UK, as well as sub-orbital spaceflights and scientific experiments.

The space sector has been a growth target for the UK Government since 2010 when it set an ambitious target of delivering 10% of the global space economy. The last UK Space Agency report covered 2014/15 and indicated the industry was worth £13.7 billion ($17.94 billion) – equivalent to 6.5% of the global space economy.