Launch site Scotland

UK spaceflight regulations launched; government eyes 2022 for first flight

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Rocket launches may now legally lift off from British soil, as a framework regulating the space industry has come into force in the UK. The government hopes the first launch – which would be the first from Europe – could take place next year.

The Department for Transport has been consulting on and developing the rules for regulating the UK space industry, which it hopes to unlock “a potential £4bn of market opportunities” over the next decade while creating thousands of jobs.

At present, there are no spaceports anywhere in Europe, with European companies and agencies using spaceports in Russia, the Americas, and elsewhere for their launches. However, the UK government is pinning hopes on the establishment of Europe’s first spaceport in a rural part of the country. Proposed locations include the Western Isles, Glasgow, Machrihanish, Sutherland, and Shetland (all in Scotland), Newquay in Cornwall, and Snowdonia in North Wales.

It is hoped the UK space industry will launch satellites to improve satellite navigation systems, and boost the monitoring of weather patterns and climate change. The Department for Transport also said hypersonic flights and space tourism trips, such as those recently taken by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson, would eventually launch from the UK.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We stand on the cusp of the new commercial space age, and this is the blast-off moment for the UK’s thriving space industry, demonstrating the government’s commitment to put Britain at the global forefront of this sector. These regulations will help create new jobs and bring economic benefits to communities and organisations right across the UK, helping us to level up as we inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers.”

The science minister Amanda Solloway added: “The first satellite launches from UK spaceports in 2022 will be a remarkable moment, and these new regulations have taken us a step closer to being the first country in Europe to achieve lift-off from home soil. By creating world-class legislation to support our growing space sector in a safe and sustainable way, we are delivering new jobs and economic growth to communities right across the UK.”

The Civil Aviation Authority has been formally appointed as regulator of the UK space industry, following 18 months of preparation. It announced today that it is ready to assess applications for launch licenses.

Colin Macleod, head of UK space regulation at the watchdog, said it has built an “experienced team working across policy, engineering and licensing”. Safety incidents involving space flights in or over the UK will be investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which already examines aviation accidents.

The UK government has often boasted of the strength of the UK space sector following Brexit. The UK currently wields a 6 per cent share of the global space market and aims to expand this to 10 per cent by 2030 by identifying and developing high-growth markets and increasing exports. However, MPs have warned the government that it risks falling behind European neighbours due to comparatively little funding. The UK’s space budget is half of Germany’s and a third of France’s.

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