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United Kingdom: Government Publishes Public Consultation on Environmental Impact of Commercial Spaceflight

(Mar. 2, 2021) On February 10, 2021, the United Kingdom’s government published a consultation (survey) seeking the public’s opinion about the environmental objectives the U.K.’s spaceflight regulator must consider when determining whether to grant a spaceport or launch operator license, along with guidance on how the regulator must implement these objectives. The government acknowledges both the benefits that the spaceflight program can have on the environment, such as through monitoring the weather, as well as the negative implications, such as the impact on local air quality and noise and the potential impact on climate change. The environmental objectives and guidance aim to strike a “balance . . . between avoiding or minimising negative environmental impacts and maximising the contribution of spaceflight activities to the economy and the environment.”

The objectives and guidance are issued under section 2(2)(e) of the Space Industry Act 2018 and require the spaceflight regulator, which will be the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to take into account the environmental objectives set by the secretary of state when exercising its functions under the act. Section 11 of the act further specifically requires the spaceflight regulator to assess the environmental effects of any operations in deciding whether or not to grant a license, or whether to attach any conditions to the license. Thus, applicants must submit an assessment of the environmental effects of their operation as part of the application package, and the regulator must review these, along with any other environmental objectives the secretary of state has set before granting a license.

The draft environmental objectives under section 2(2)(e) of the act and draft guidance under consultation aim to provide the spaceflight regulator with clarity when it exercises its functions under the act to help allow the

regulator [to] contribute towards delivering the government’s sustainable development and environmental aims and objectives by complementing and reinforcing the balance between sustainable development while minimising environmental harm.

The environmental objectives set out in the guidance provide that the spaceflight regulator must act to:

a. minimise emissions contributing to climate change resulting from spaceflight activities

b. protect human health and the environment from the impacts of emissions on local air quality arising from spaceflight activities

c. protect people and wildlife from the impacts of noise from spaceflight activities

d. protect the marine environment from the impacts of spaceflight activities

The government stated that the objectives are consistent with the environmental topics that must be addressed in the assessment of environmental effects and notes that it

should be considered complementary to the approach already taken by the CAA when exercising its air navigation functions, to ensure that:

  • the space sector can make an important contribution to the UK economy in a sustainable way
  • the environmental impact of spaceflight activities is minimised and mitigated as much as it is practicable and realistic to do so.

The consultation is part of the government’s commercial spaceflight program and its “wider ambitions to grow the UK’s share of the global space economy from 5.1% to 10% by 2030,” while also taking into account the 25 Year Environment Plan. Through the consultation, the government is “keen to understand that the draft objectives we’re proposing are consistent with the government’s sustainable development and environmental aims.”