Three main legal instruments in the UK cover spaceflight activities.
1. The Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA) as amended by the Deregulation Act 2015
Provides the basis for regulating the outer space activities of UK nationals and UK companies intending to launch or procure the launch of a space object, or operate a space object from outside the UK. As per section 3(1) of the Space Industry Act, the OSA does not apply to activities carried out from the United Kingdom.
The Outer Space Act 1986 has also been extended to certain Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories to enable nationals and companies from those jurisdictions to carry out outer space activities.
2. The Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA)
Applies to anyone intending to carry out space activities, sub-orbital activities, and associated activities in the UK. Several statutory instruments have been made under the SIA:
- The Space Industry Regulations 2021 which make provision to enable the licensing and regulation of spaceflight activities, spaceports, and range control services.
- The Spaceflight Activities (Investigations of Spaceflight Accidents) Regulations 2021 which establish a spaceflight accident investigation body and make provision about the conduct of accident investigations.
- The Space Industry (Appeals) Regulations 2021 which outline the decisions made by the regulator that may be appealed by a licence applicant or licence holder. They also create the decision-making body to hear appeals and, set the procedures and timescales for making and deciding appeals.
- The Regulator's Licensing Rules which support the regulator’s power relating to the granting and renewal of launch operator, spaceport and range control licences under the SIA.
Applies to anyone intending to carry the launch of a vehicle in the UK that is not capable of operating above the stratosphere (circa 50km altitude).
Space law has its origins in the treaties and principles established by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
These are set out in the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and in subsequent UN treaties, resolutions, and principles.
The UK is a signatory to four UN space treaties, and takes seriously its international commitment to the safe, responsible, and sustainable use of space.
Before granting a licence for any operator type, we must be satisfied that doing so is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom.
The UK government is party to a number of international treaties and has entered into a several bilateral agreements with other states which may have an impact on space activities, these include:
- UK-US Technology Safeguarding Agreement (TSA) US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement
- Faroe Islands MOU, which includes provisions for overflight of UK launch vehicles over the territory of the Faroe Islands
- Iceland MOU, which includes provisions for overflight of UK launch vehicles over the territory of Iceland
- Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC)
Additionally, there are a number of international guidelines or best practice that the UK complies with;
- IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines
- Guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities (found in the annex of the UNCOPUOS report)