• The Outer Space Act 1986

    The Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA), alongside the Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA) transposes the obligations that the UN space treaties place on state parties into domestic UK legislation and establish the framework for licensing and regulation of activities.

    Purpose and remit of the Outer Space Act

    The Outer Space Act is the basis for the regulation of activities in outer space carried out overseas by organisations or individuals established in the United Kingdom, or in one of its overseas territories or Crown dependencies. This Act does not apply to activities carried on in the United Kingdom (and accordingly does not apply to activities requiring authorisation under section 3(1) of the Space Industry Act 2018).

    It confers licensing and other powers on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who acts through the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Space Agency to exercise these powers.

    The OSA seeks to:

    • Ensure compliance with the UK’s various obligations under international treaties and principles covering the use of outer space, including liability for damage caused by space objects, the registration of objects launched into outer space and the principles for the remote sensing of the Earth
    • Ensure that space activities do not jeopardise public health or the safety of persons or property
    • Ensure that space activities licensed by the UK do not undermine national security
    • Manage the risk of claims for third-party damage being brought against the UK Government, and to transfer some of that liability from the UK Government and taxpayers to the licensed organisation or individual whose space activities caused the third-party damage

    An OSA licence is required for the following activities:

    • Procuring the launch of a space object
    • Operating a space object
    • Any activity in outer space

    It is an offence for a person to whom the Act applies to carry out a licensable activity without a valid licence (OSA, s. 12).

    The 1986 Act was amended in 2015, to introduce a limit to the operator’s indemnity to the UK Government for third-party claims brought against the UK. The Act has also been extended, through Orders in Council, to apply with modifications to Crown dependencies and overseas territories. Fees regulations have also been made under powers in the Act.