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The UK Government has an ambition for the UK to be a leading player in the global space industry. The decreasing cost of launching small satellites is greatly increasing the application and use of satellite data, adding value to many sectors and industries. Further, commercial space travel and space tourism are becoming real future possibilities. Currently, the Government considers that neither international aviation law nor space law adequately cover the risks to safety and security posed by commercial spaceflight activities in the UK.

The Space Industry Bill intends to create a regulatory framework for the expansion of commercial space activities and the development of a UK space port. The Bill intends to cover both orbital and sub-orbital activities, and horizontal and vertical launches carried out in the UK.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 27 June 2017 and completed third reading on 28 November 2017. It was introduced to the House of Common on 29 November 2017. The Bill passed its second reading and Committee stages in the House of Commons on the 15 and 23 January 2018, respectively. Report stage in the House of Commons is scheduled for 7 February 2018.

The Bill:

  • Creates a framework for the regulation of spaceflight activities in the UK in line with the UK’s international obligations;
  • Establishes a system of licencing for UK space activities;
  • Creates powers for the Secretary of State to appoint a regulator(s). The regulator’s primary objective is to ensure public safety.
  • Creates a framework for establishing safety, training and informed consent requirements for individuals participating in spaceflight activities;
  • Creates a framework to establish a launch site in the UK, including creating powers for the Secretary of State to make orders over land;
  • Creates a framework for liability, indemnities and insurance for UK space activities;
  • Creates new offences and applies existing UK criminal law to space activities.

The Bill extends to the whole of the UK except for several provisions listed in clause 70, which do not apply to or only apply to Northern Ireland.

In general, the Bill has been welcomed by industry stakeholders. The major criticism of the Bill is the lack of policy detail on the face of the Bill, which creates a framework for further policy to be delivered by regulation and/or guidance. The main specific issue raised by industry stakeholders is the absence of a mandatory cap on liability for spaceflight operators.

Lords consideration

The main themes during the debate in the House of Lords stages focused on the broad delegated powers in the Bill, environmental protections and the powers over land. Several changes were made to the Bill during the House of Lords stages, including a Government amendment that removed the Henry VIII power previously contained in clause 66.

Commons Committee Stage

Two changes were made to the Bill during the House of Commons Committee stage:

  • a new clause was added to require licence applicants to submit environmental impact assessments (now Clause 11).
  • Clause 34 was amended to require the Secretary of State to indemnify uninvolved third parties who suffer losses that exceed the operator liability cap. Both changes were unopposed and were foreshadowed during the House of Lords stages.

The main issue debated by the House of Commons Public Bill Committee was whether the cap on operators’ liability to indemnify the Government and/or third parties should be mandatory. An SNP amendment that sought to make the cap on liability to indemnify the Government mandatory fell at a division. Other unsuccessful opposition amendments included:

  • seeking to make the delegated powers in Clause 67 subject to the super-affirmative procedure;
  • seeking post-hoc evaluation of the enforcement authorisation in Clause 32;
  • requiring consent of the devolved Administrations before making orders under Clauses 38 and 40.

Further information

Explanatory notes to accompany the Bill as amended in the Lords have been produced by the Department of Transport. Prior to the Lords stages the Government also published policy scoping notes (11 July 2017) and a delegated powers memorandum (28 June 2017) which provide further details regarding legislative intent.

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