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Summary

Laws relating to space activities in the United Kingdom differ from those in Australia. If you are an entrepreneur interesting in undertaking space activities out of British territory, it is important you understand your legal obligations.

Contents of this article

Space law in the UK – Does it apply to you?

Like in Australia, the British Government has been proactive in finding ways to facilitate the growth of the domestic space industry. Many legislative changes have been introduced to modernise the British space law regime, promote greater compliance with international obligations, and attract additional commercial interest.

Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR)

Space activities undertaken in British territory by UK citizens or foreign nationals are regulated by the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR). The Act regulates both orbital and suborbital spaceflight activities. As is the case with new Australian legislation, regulations designed to complement and expand on provisions in the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) are still being drafted.

If you are an Australian entrepreneur interested in conducting space activities from British territory, you will have to comply with rules and conditions contained in the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), in addition to any relevant provisions in the Australian Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS).

SEEK LEGAL ADVICE IF:

You are unsure to what extent you must comply with Australian law, in addition to British law.

Getting legal advice

USE CASE EXAMPLE: Complying with the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) – 1

ANGELS Aerospace is a small Australian space company interested in placing its first experimental satellite into a sun synchronous orbit. Through its launch broker, ANGELS Aerospace enters an agreement with a British launch provider. The launch provider operates out of the British Government’s recently established commercial spaceport, situated in the far north of Scotland. In order to comply with both Australian and British law, ANGELS Aerospace will need to:

  • Obtain an Overseas Payload Permit under Australian law;
  • Obtain minimum insurance cover under Australian law, to meet any loss or harm that may be incurred by the Commonwealth in the event of mission failure;
  • Obtain an Operator Licence under British law;
  • Ensure its insurance cover meets the minimum requirements prescribed by British legislation and regulations.

Available licenses:

Three types of licences can be obtained under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), each relating to a different type of space activity. Failure to obtain a licence for regulated space activities constitutes an offence, and may attract criminal and/or civil penalties.

Licences are granted by the Regulator (by default the Secretary of State) if it is satisfied minimum legislative and regulatory requirements have been met.

Obtaining an Operator Licence is necessary if you are planning to launch or procure the launch of a space object from British territory, and/or operate a space object in orbit. The licence applies to both orbital and suborbital activities.

In addition to complying with the usual conditions of licence approval, applicants for Operator Licences must carry out a safety risk assessment relating to persons actively involved in carrying out planned space activities.

For persons not actively involved in planned space activities, like the general public, the Regulator must be satisfied that the applicant has taken all reasonable steps necessary to ensure the risk to their health, safety and property is as low as possible, and otherwise acceptable.

If the Operator Licence is being obtained in relation to the launch of a spacecraft, applicants are also required to undertake an assessment of the effects the activity is expected to have on the environment.

Obtaining a Spaceport Licence is necessary if you are planning to operate a launch facility in British territory, or are planning to allow other authorised operators to conduct their own launch activities from such a facility. The licence applies to both horizontal and vertical launch activities.

Before granting a Spaceport Licence, the Regulator must be satisfied that the applicant has taken all reasonable steps necessary to ensure the risk to public health, safety and property is as low as possible.

Applicants are also required to undertake an assessment of the effects operating a launch facility is expected to have on the environment.

Obtaining a Range Control Licence is necessary if you are planning to provide range control services in British territory.

How applications for Range Control Licences are considered, and how range control activities are to be exercised, can be modified by the making of regulations.

For all types of licences under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), there are a number of common conditions that must be met before the Regulator will grant an application. The Regulator must be satisfied that:

  • Granting the licence will not impair Britain’s national security;
  • Granting the licence will be consistent with Britain’s obligations under international law;
  • Granting the licence will not contradict or harm the national interest;
  • The applicant has the necessary financial and technical resources to undertake the planned activity;
  • The applicant, or persons undertaking activities for the applicant, are of fit and proper character.

It is at the Regulator’s discretion to make regulations determining the necessary form and contents of licence applications, required accompanying information, and time limits.

Important to Know

When granting licences, the Regulator has the option to impose certain conditions on the activities of licensees. A non-exhaustive list of possible conditions the Regulator might impose is contained in Schedule 1 of the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR). Amongst other things, conditions may relate to safety, space debris mitigation, and the protection of sensitive information.

In order to verify the applicant’s financial and technical capacity and character, the Regulator is entitled to inspect the applicant’s facilities, spacecraft, other vehicles and documentation.

USE CASE: Complying with the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) – 2

ANGELS Aerospace has successfully obtained an Australian Overseas Payload Permit, as well as the minimum insurance cover mandated by the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS). The company has now initiated the process of obtaining the necessary licences and approvals under British law.

In the course of deciding whether or not to grant ANGELS Aerospace an Operator Licence, the British Regulator requests that prescribed individuals be allowed to inspect the experimental satellite in order to determine the company’s level of technical competency. The Regulator also requests that ANGELS Aerospace provide detailed particulars of its mission, including the satellite’s orbital parameters, and what measures are being implemented to maintain an appropriate level of space situational awareness.

The Regulator is satisfied that the company holds the necessary technical expertise to perform its planned mission safely. It decides to grant the Operator Licence, subject to a condition that – in addition to the ordinary safety and environmental impact assessments – the company prepare a space debris mitigation plan detailing what measures it will undertake to ensure its satellite is not left in orbit once its operational life comes to an end.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW

In some circumstances, a person may be exempted from having to obtain a licence under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) before engaging in spaceflight activities. The Regulator will only grant an exemption from the license requirement if satisfied it is not:

  • Necessary to secure public safety;
  • Necessary to secure the health or safety of individuals actively taking
    part in the spaceflight activity;
  • Necessary to secure compliance with Britain’s international obligations.

Eligibility for a licence exemption may arise where certified arrangements have been made between the British Government and the Government of another country to ensure the operator will comply with Britain’s international obligations.

Additional circumstances in which an exemption may apply can be determined by the making of regulations.

Outer Space Act 1986 (GBR)

Space activities undertaken by British citizens outside of British territory are regulated by the Outer Space Act 1986 (GBR).

If you are an Australian entrepreneur interested in undertaking space activities in the United Kingdom, the provisions of the Outer Space Act 1986 (GBR) will not apply to you.

For more information relating to the licence application process or liability and insurance requirements under the Outer Space Act 1986 (GBR), visit the Outer Space Act online guide.


Liability and insurance

Foreign nationals interested in undertaking space activities in British territory are expected to comply with the liability and insurance provisions contained in the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR).

Liability

Liability controls under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) are broadly consistent with international law, and are therefore reflective of the system adopted in the Australian Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS).

Strict liability is imposed on licensees of spaceflight activities that cause damage to life or property within British territory. A general entitlement to seek legal recourse for damage caused by spaceflight activities is conferred on the ‘uninvolved [British] public’. This strict liability rule means that claimants are not required to bring evidence demonstrating the licensee was at fault for the damage suffered. A licensee will be presumed to be at fault, unless it can present material sufficient to absolve itself or reduce its liability.

Indemnities

Licensees are expected to indemnify the British Government against any claim made in connection to its spaceflight activities that have resulted in damage to life or property.

The Regulator retains the right to limit a licensee’s level of liability by way of imposing a ‘liability cap’ as a condition to the licence.  A licensee will not be expected to indemnify the British Government beyond the amount set as its liability cap, except in certain limited circumstances prescribed by regulations.

If a licensee becomes subject to a claim for damages that exceeds its insurance cover, the Regulator can choose to indemnify the licensee for the difference between the amount claimed and the amount covered.

Where the formulated loss of a claimant exceeds a licensee’s liability cap amount, the claimant must be indemnified by the British Government to the extent that the liability cap is exceeded.

USE CASE: Complying with the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) – 3

ANGELS Aerospace’s experimental satellite has successfully completed its mission, reaching the end of its operational life. Complying with its formulated debris mitigation plan, the company begins procedures to de-orbit its satellite in such a way that anything surviving re-entry falls into the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, the company makes a miscalculation such that after the satellite re-enters the atmosphere, parts of it fall over Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The satellite descends at a great speed and begins to break apart. The largest chunks of the satellite crash into an electricity substation, causing significant damage and a power outage across a large part of the county.

The substation is operated by a privatised electricity provider, which brings a claim against the British Government seeking compensation for damage to its facility and the inconvenience it has caused its customers. The claim is in the sum of £20 million.

ANGELS’ operator licence was granted with an addendum limiting its level of liability to £15 million. On this basis, ANGELS sought insurance cover in the amount of £15 million.

Exercising its discretion under section 35(2) of the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), the Regulator chooses to indemnify ANGELS Aerospace for the £5 million difference between its insured amount, and the £20 million claimed by the electricity provider.

Insurance

Under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), the level of insurance cover required to undertake licensed spaceflight activities is set by regulations.

Obtaining insurance is mandatory for all activities regulated under the Act, including for individuals who have received an exemption from the requirement to obtain a license.

Additionally, the Regulator holds various discretionary powers that enable it to assist licensees with obtaining the necessary level of insurance or re-insurance required to meet their obligations.

Link Sources

To view the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) in its entirety, visit:
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/5/contents/enacted

For a summary of key aspects of the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR), visit:
http://www.unoosa.org/documents/pdf/copuos/lsc/2018/tech-01.pdf

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) is designed to apply to foreign nationals interested in undertaking space activities from British territory.

Keep in mind that, as an Australian space operator, you will have to comply additionally with any relevant provisions and controls in the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS). If you are interested in launching a satellite, that will mean obtaining an Overseas Payload Permit, and meeting associated minimum insurance requirements.

Both the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) and the Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (AUS) replicate the general liability regime established internationally by the Liability Convention.

If your space activities have resulted in damage to the life, property or spaceflight activities of others, your liability will be determined according to the law under which a claim is made against you.

The Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) confers a general entitlement on the ‘uninvolved [British] public’ to recover any loss against spaceflight licensee’s whose activities have caused them harm. If your activities have resulted in damage in the UK, your liability will most likely be determined according to British law.

If you are still uncertain of your potential liability under the law of the United Kingdom, it is recommended you seek legal advice.

Insurance requirements under the Space Industry Act 2018 (GBR) are to be set by regulations.

Keep in mind that, for activities requiring an Australian Overseas Payload Permit, you will also need to meet minimum insurance requirements pertaining to that licence type under Australian law.

It is recommended you seek legal advice if you are uncertain to what extent you require insurance.

Comparing foreign licensing regimes

Key features:

  • Australian space law applies to space activities in Australia, and to Australian nationals conducting space activities abroad.
  • Space operators are required to hold insurance of up to AUD$100 million under Australian space law.
  • The Australian Space Agency charges costs for assessing applications for space licences and permits.

Primary regulator:

The primary regulator of space activities in Australia is the Australian Space Agency.

 

 

 

Want to learn more about space law in Australia? Visit our article on Australian space law.

Key features:

  • The New Zealand space licensing regime does not charge fees for an application, or for holding a licence or permit.
  • New Zealand currently recognises licences from certain jurisdictions as meeting their licence or permit requirements.
  • Australia and New Zealand offer equivalent space licences and permits

Primary regulator:

The primary regulator of space activities in New Zealand is the NZ Space Agency.

Want to learn more about space law in New Zealand? Visit our article on New Zealand space law.

Key features:

  • The United States offers three different licences and permits: Launch/Re-entry Vehicles Specific Licence, Operator licence, Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets.
  • The costs of launching activities in the United States depends on various factors, including: the launch vehicle used, size and destination of the payload and insurance requirements, among others.
  • Licence holders are required to make a reciprocal waiver of claims with the relevant parties involved in launch or re-entry services under which each party agrees to be responsible for personal injury to, death of, or property damage or loss sustained by it or its own employees resulting from an activity carried out under the applicable licence.
  • Space operators are subject to ongoing monitoring by the Federal Administration Authority to ensure compliance with licence conditions.

 

Government regulators:

The regulation of space activities in the United States is split between several federal government agencies:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • The Department of Commerce

 

 

 

 

 

Want to learn more about space law in the United States? Visit our article on United States space law.

Key features:

  • Separated ‘launch’ and ‘command’ phase, enabling ease in apportionment of liability in the case of damage.
  • Four obtainable licences in addition to case-by-case authorisation, with lack of clarity surrounding costs.
  • Clear insurance requirements and regulations regarding liability.

Primary regulator:

The primary regulator of space activities in France is Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES).

 

 

 

Want to learn more about space law in France? Visit our article on French space law.

Key features:

  • Launches are conducted through the Indian government, and there is an established commercial framework with government owned launch provider ‘Antrix’.
  • Indian launch vehicles have flight heritage, having successfully launched hundreds of foreign space objects.
  • There is a lack of legislation, leading to potential for discretion and uncertainty.

Primary regulator:

The primary regulator of space activities in India is the Indian Space Research Organisation.

 

 

 

Want to learn more about space law in India? Visit our article on Indian space law.

Key features:

  • Unlike other space-faring nations, China does not have comprehensive laws to regulate space activities.
  • Licence holders are subject to continuing supervision and obligations under Chinese regulations.
  • Insurance for space activities is compulsory under the Chinese regulatory regime.

Primary regulator:

The primary regulator of space activities in China is the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

 

Want to learn more about space law in China? Visit our article on Chinese space law.