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The UK space industry is a fast-growing sector and its income is estimated to have trebled in size since 2000. It generates an estimated income of £14.8 billion per year and supports around 42,000 jobs across all regions of the UK. The UK space industry supports a range of public services – particularly through satellite data and imagery – such as disaster relief, telecommunications, global positioning system (GPS), and weather forecasting. The growing global reliance on satellites and their data, and the reducing cost of launching small satellites into space has driven the growth of the space sector.

Government Policy is to grow the sector

Over the past decade, the UK Government has aimed to develop the sector within the global space industry. In December 2015, the Government welcomed the space industry’s ambition to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030 and published its first National Space Policy, setting out the Government’s main aims and policies

  • That space is of strategic importance to the UK;
  • A commitment to the safety and security of the space operating environment, free from interference;
  • It wishes to support the growth of the commercial space sector, underpinned by excellent academic research; and
  • A commitment to international cooperation on legal frameworks and collaboration when beneficial to the UK sector.

Four years later, the Government set out its plans to establish a new National Space Council and launch a UK Space Strategy in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech.

The National Space Strategy is still yet to be published, but the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (published March 2021), indicated that the Strategy would integrate military and civil space policy.

How the sector is developing

A range of developments are taking place within the UK space sector, including:

  • LaunchUK aims to put the UK at the forefront of small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight and is helping develop spaceports in the UK;
  • The UK Space Agency funds a variety of programmes that help to deliver resilient space capabilities;
  • The UK Government invested in satellite technology firm OneWeb;
  • Several international agreements related to space have been made, such as the UK-Australia ‘Space Bridge’ and the US-UK Technology Safeguard agreement.

A specific regulatory framework

The Space Industry Act 2018 was introduced to create a regulatory framework for the expansion of commercial space activities (involving both launch to orbit and sub-orbital spaceflight) and the development of spaceports in the UK. The Act created the high-level legal framework to enable commercial spaceflight in the UK but the introduction of secondary legislation, to provide a more detailed regulatory framework, has yet to take place. During 2020, the Government held several consultations seeking views on the draft regulations, though, at the time of writing, secondary legislation had yet to be formally laid.

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