• Philip Day

The Space Industry Regulations 2020: An Insightful Summary

The UK Government's Department for Transport (DfT) published their 800+ pages of regulations for the space industry, which are designed to amend and support the Space Industry Act 2018. Alone, that was more like the legal skeleton of a legislature for the space industry. Two years on, Paul Cremin and his team have put the flesh onto the bones. We asked them to help us understand it, so that you don't have to read the whole text cold!

First thing's first, a lot of documents were published yesterday morning (29th July 2020), and all 18 certainly give you a deep understanding of the policy intent for the CAA (the newly appointed regulator) to consider when monitoring the Space Industry here in the UK.

From an intent point of view, the regulations have been drafted in principal to allow for launches from the UK and as a way to encourage business to operate in a successful and mature way, which could enable young dynamic companies to compete globally where there are larger businesses and a more mature turn-key space industry.

There's a great document among the batch called: "Unlocking Commercial Spaceflight for the UK" and it does a great job of summarising the remaining works. However, there are some key questions that may arise when you go through that one alone, and here we will seek to answer some of the more pressing ones.

Right off the bat we can't help but notice that one of the biggest international industries with advanced technology that could out-comete the UK today, is the USA, with whom a technology sharing agreement was signed earlier this month. These regulations quote: "allowing for US spaceflight vehicles and technology to be important and launched from the UK" could present a real threat to home-grown launch companies operating small expendable vehicles. Government intent would seek to allay those fears. Licensing for such imports is intended to be granted when a solid case can be made for a benefit to the UK. This clause, and the agreement earlier in the Summer are not intended to turn the UK into a launchpad for the USA, but rather to become a global and european hub, that is focussed on growing talent and opportunity in the UK.

Another key question which isn't clearly defined, and opinion is welcome to be sent in with the consultation (link to government website), is the transition between "flying activities" and "space activities". You might have expected to see that above Flight Level 600 (60,000 feet) we might classify something as in space, rather than in flight. Perhaps we would take guidance from the United States Air Force and NASA and use 80km as that transition point, or even use the Kármán line which is set at 100km, or 330,000 FT (FL3300). It remains undefined save for a description that space activities occur "above the stratosphere" which ends at about 50km (164,000 feet, FL1640) altitude depending on local conditions. Balloons can take part in space activities according to the regulations, and these usually burst between 90,000 and 120,000 feet, remaining in the stratosphere when they do so, and falling / recovering towards the surface thereafter. The highest ever recorded balloon did pass this level, making it to an astonishing 173,900 feet (53km).

However, the intention here is particularly important, and it will be finalised depending on the results of the consultation. MET (weather) balloons and scientific payloads are not expected to be required to be governed by these regulations. A balloon captured by these regulations will require a pilot with a commercial pilot's license, like those who fly our families on holiday. This would be a significant expense for universities and other MET or science balloon operators if they had to absorb this additional cost. It is important to note that these regulations are designed to manage the flights of balloons with passengers on-board, or carrying a rocket up to altitude before it is released free from most of the atmospheric drag that a ground launched rocket must fight against to reach orbit.

The new regulations are tailored around the commercial-led approach to space in the UK. As a result, cases which might seem extremely unlikely for legislation to be generated at such an early stage elsewhere in the world, where government projects only have led policy until recently, companies such as BlackArrow can get their teeth into regulations specifically designed to regulate for launching rockets from ships. The interface between maritime law, aviation law and now space law makes this a tricky area, and we can be sure to receive a lot more detail through the consultation. What we do know for sure is, UK registered ships, can definitely load up UK manufactured rockets and sail to a safe location for launch, and their activities will be regulated by the CAA under this Act.

What is the biggest take-away for any business looking at these regulations and thinking they will need a license?

The DfT, the CAA, The UK Space Agency as stake-holders are on your side. Licensing is complex and follows a similar model to the civil aviation industry, except that space is far far more bespoke in nature. As a result, the legislation and the regulator upholding it are both set up to be very collaborative in helping to get businesses to where they need to be for a license application to be successful, and an operation to be safe.

Safety, unsurprisingly, is the golden thread running through these regulations, and the requirements for Safety Officers, Training Managers, Manuals and even training courses for all staff, are a part of the regulated process intentionally. The UK Government wants 10% of the global space industry to ourselves, and to get there our safety and professionalism reputations must remain world-class.

If you think we missed an important point that others need to know about, please add it to the comments below! We have intentionally not given a blow-by-blow account of the documentation available. However, it is hoped that you now have a basic understanding of what the regulations exist for, and if you think they will affect your business, I encourage you to read the consultation document.

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