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United Kingdom: Space Industry Bill Rocketing Through Parliament

(Jan. 2, 2018) The Space Industry Bill recently had its third reading in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and the government is hoping that it will be enacted in early 2018. (Space Industry Bill 2017-19, HC Bill 137, PARLIAMENT.UK.) While the bill has been the subject of puns, jokes, and references to science fiction during its passage through Parliament, its impetus is the government’s recognition that regulation is needed to enable and encourage the operation and the growth of the commercial spaceflight industry. The Bill creates a framework that will regulate commercial spaceflight and sub-orbital activities from spaceports within the UK, with the aim of stimulating the market. (Id.)

Currently, the Outer Space Act 1986, which was enacted to implement the UK’s obligations under the United Nation’s Space Treaties, enables UK nationals and companies to obtain a license from the Secretary of State to conduct activities with space objects and outer space. In practice, the only launches licensed under this Act have been for small satellites overseas. (Space Industry Bill [HL] Explanatory Notes, ¶ 1, Parliament.UK.)

The government conducted a number of consultations and reviews on this subject, and it considered legislation from other countries that already have space activity, such as the United States, in order to see the effectiveness and shortcomings of their existing laws. The Bill draws upon the UK’s existing aviation legislation, with many provisions closely based on the Civil Aviation Act 1982; the bill “future proofs” the legislation by providing for secondary legislation, which can be changed more easily than an Act, to address technical details. (Government Legal Department, To Boldly Go Where No Bill Has Gone Before, Gov.UK (Dec. 21, 2017); Civil Aviation Authority, UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations: Technical Report, Cap 1189 (July 2014), GOV.UK; Department for Transport et al., Supporting Commercial Spaceplane Operations in the UK: Consultation on Criteria to Determine the Location of a UK Spaceport (2014), GOV.UK; Civil Aviation Authority, UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations: Summary and Conclusions, Cap. 1198 (July 2014), GOV.UK.)

The legislation will be overseen by two existing UK bodies – the UK Space Agency will oversee space activities, and the Civil Aviation Authority will oversee sub-orbital activities. (To Boldly Go Where No Bill Has Gone Before, supra.)