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Outer space

Published Thursday, March 9, 2017

On the 21 February 2017, the Government published a Draft Spaceflight Bill to "provide for the creation of a regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight activities to be carried out from spaceports in the United Kingdom".

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On 13 December 2015, the Government published a National Space Policy which supports the Government’s new investments in areas such as human spaceflight and microgravity research as space becomes “an increasingly essential part of our daily lives and a huge success story for the UK.”

The policy serves as an articulation of government support for a sector that is worth £11.8 billion to the economy and supports a range of public services from disaster relief, defence and transport. The Government also rehearses its commitment to growing the UK’s commercial space sector – with an ambition to capture 10% of the global market supporting 100,000 new jobs and generating £40bn for the economy by 2030.

According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) some of the key issues facing the commercial space sector are: the regulatory regime governing outer space, notably in respect of a future spaceport; the development of small satellites, an area of particular strength in the UK; insurance requirements and other structural and international factors. Understanding these issues requires an appreciation of the national and international legal framework governing the exploitation and exploration of outer space. The lead role of the UK Space Agency, not least in administering the licensing regime for outer space activities, will remain central to the development of UK capabilities.

The UK’s new National Space Policy commits to four key principles in the Government’s use of space. The Government:

  • recognises that space is of strategic importance to the UK because of the value that space programmes deliver back to public services, national security, science and innovation and the economy
  • commits to preserving and promoting the safety and security of the unique space operating environment, free from interference
  • supports the growth of a robust and competitive commercial space sector, underpinned by excellent academic research
  • commits to cooperating internationally to create the legal frameworks for the responsible use of space and to collaborating with other nations to deliver maximum benefit from UK investment in space

Against this background, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee launched an inquiry into satellites and space, to inform the Government’s UK civil space strategy, originally planned for 2016. Satellite technology is one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ identified in 2013 by the Government for public support.

On the 21 February 2017, the Government published a Draft Spaceflight Bill to "provide for the creation of a regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight activities to be carried out from spaceports in the United Kingdom". This changes earlier plans to introduce such provisions as part of a wider Modern Transport Bill. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will be examining the Draft Bill, and has issued a call for written evidence by 20 March.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7464

Author: Grahame Danby

Topic: Science

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