Everyone knows the UK is leaving the EU, but not many people know where it’s headed: to space. The new space race has countries and companies rushing to create technology to explore the outer reaches of the solar system. The UK hasn’t often been thought of as a contender in the race, but that could change with the introduction of a Space Industry Bill in the House of Lords.
Promoting a New Industry
Up until this point, the UK hasn’t been focused on sending astronauts to space. Instead of targeting large rockets and launches, the UK has spent the last few years quietly becoming one of the largest global producers of smaller satellites—a £14 billion industry that employees 40,000 people around the world.
However, that could change with a new bill. The bill, a joint initiative by the Department for Transport, UK Space Agency, and Civil Aviation Authority supported by the Health and Safety Executive, was introduced in the Queen’s Speech and shows the country’s dedication to enabling commercial spaceflight.
Until now, the country has been content to provide communications and other satellites without actually launching them into space themselves. The new bill sets the groundwork for future space development and exploration. The British government hopes to promote the country’s space industry and take advantage of growing global interest in space exploration with the launch of multiple micro-satellites.
“The Space Industry Bill will ensure the UK remains a leading player in the commercial space age by enabling small satellite launch from UK spaceports,” said Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson. “The measures in the bill will help make the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial launch and enable UK businesses to capture a growing share of this emerging global market.”
Focus on Spaceports
One of the key components of the bill is on how and where satellites are launched. Instead of relying on foreign spaceports, the bill hopes to give control back to the UK.
The basic idea is to create spaceports that launch small satellites, including traditional vertical rocket launches as well as horizontal launches that utilize runways and is cheaper than the alternative method. With the UK controlling its own spaceports, it can regulate the production and launch of all kinds of satellites.
The bill also gives new power to license a wide range of spaceflight activities and provides a comprehensive framework to grow safe commercial spaceflight in the UK. It also introduces ways to regulate unauthorized access and interference with spaceports to keep the launches and equipment safe.
A major hangup until this point has been the high liability costs of launches, but that changes with the bill’s creation of a regulatory framework to cover operational insurance, indemnity, and liability.
Looking to the Future
The government expects satellite launch and sub-orbital flights to be worth over £25 billion globally within the next 20 years. In order to be successful and take advantage of the potential profits, Britain’s space industry needs to focus on commercial growth and be adaptable as technology changes.
“It’s interesting the way the UK industry has developed over the past 50 years,” said Stuart Martin, chief executive of Satellite Applications Catapult. “We’ve developed in niches, such as small satellites, telecoms and applications for data, largely because we’re not participating in big national programs like the rest of the world. Now that we’re seeing the shift to space being privatized, the UK industry is fantastically well placed.”
Large companies around the world are developing their own space devices and satellites outside of government regulations, and the UK hopes to capitalize on the trend.
The bill has yet to be finalized, but it is the first step into creating new laws and framework to encourage space expansion in the UK. If it goes through, it could change the international face of space development and exploration.