Satellite Bulletin February 2017: UK Spaceflight Bill

24 February 2017

Joanne Wheeler

The UK Government published the thought-leading and ambitious Draft Spaceflight Bill on 21 February 2017.

This is perhaps the single most important development for the growing smallsat industry in the UK. 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 draft Bill will enable the launch of small satellites from the UK, as well as sub-orbital spaceflights and scientific experiments.

Securing low cost access to space

The Queen's Speech on 18 May 2016 featured the proposal for the first commercial spaceport in the UK. The Modern Transport Bill announced in Parliament set out the aim to “secure low-cost access to space for our world-leading small and micro satellite industry”. The Bill mentioned “enabling a first UK space port… within the life of the parliament”; which would mean before 2020 when the current parliamentary term ends. It is expected that licences for launch and sub-orbital activities will be granted by 2020.

Safety, sustainability and support

Offering proportionate regulation, the draft Bill has three main objectives:

• facilitate and support the international development of the UK space sector;

• manage long term risks and liabilities for sustainable sector growth; and

• minimise risk to uninvolved third parties, and keep those involved as safe as possible.

Next steps

Through the publication of the draft Bill, the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the UK Space Agency (UKSA) wish to "stress test" the proposed legislation and ensure that it strikes the right balance between: (a) stimulating the commercial market for space activities, primarily small satellite launch, and sub-orbital spaceflight activities; and (b) ensuring safety.

Comments on the draft Bill should be submitted to these organisations.

Attracting investment

This announcement is all part of the UK Government's plan to grow the UK's share of the global space sector to 10% by 2030. An important part of this ambition is for the UK to be the European centre for sub-orbital spaceflight. The draft Bill should attract potential investment in spaceplane operations and spaceports and thus create more highly skilled jobs in the sector and spark further innovation.

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Joanne Wheeler

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