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Government to legislate for UK spaceflight this year

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The UK government has published its response to its commercial spaceflight consultation. It plans to introduce legislation this year, which will open up the possibility of the first launches from UK spaceports.

The government hopes to grow the UK’s share of the global space market to 10 per cent by 2030. It aims to build multiple spaceports in the UK, with a view to seeing commercial sub-orbital spaceflight and space tourism from UK spaceports. At present, licensed UK entities can launch and operate satellites but rely on obtaining a launch slot from a spaceport in another country.

In the past months, the government has received comment from industry, the public and other parties on the rules to govern commercial spaceflight in the UK. It has now published its response to this consultation.

The government hopes to introduce legislation to implement the Space Industry Act 2018 this year, with an ambition to see the first launch from a UK spaceport in the early 2020s.

The legislation will aim to establish the UK as a flourishing hub for the space industry while keeping safety in mind. It is likely to regulate the launch of a range of commercial spaceflight technologies, including traditional vertical launch rockets, high-altitude balloons and spaceplanes.

The Department for Transport aims for this regulatory framework to “strike a balance between creating the conditions that will allow the space sector to flourish in the UK, while ensuring that it is also safe”. The government said that UK spaceflight would create thousands of jobs, including many high-skilled jobs, in an industry worth £14.8bn.

“The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to the UK’s ambitions in this sector and today we’re making a giant leap for growth and prosperity for the whole of Great Britain,” said the transport secretary Grant Shapps. “I’m committed to growing the UK’s space industry and, with the most modern piece of space legislation in the world, we are cementing our leading role in this sector, unlocking a new era in commercial spaceflight for all four corners of our nation.”

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “The UK’s space sector is thriving and we have bold ambitions to be the first country in Europe to launch small satellites while building space capabilities in every corner of the UK.

“Working with our space industry, regulators and across government, we will develop a modern, safe and flexible regulatory framework that will support a new era of sustainable commercial spaceflight across the UK.”

Potential spaceport locations include the Western Isles, Shetland, Sutherland, Glasgow Prestwick and Campbeltown (all in Scotland), as well as Newquary in Cornwall and Snowdonia in North Wales. At present, there are no spaceports in Europe. The government has already awarded grants worth nearly £40m to support the establishment of commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launches from UK spaceports.

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