The UK government has announced plans to overhaul regulation in the space industry as part of an effort to revitalize the sector. The UK Space Agency is proposing changes to the charges for orbital operator licenses and satellite launches to ensure that costs are based on the size and specifics of individual missions.
The push for regulatory reform comes in the wake of a failed Virgin Orbit mission in January, which sparked criticism of the UK’s space industry and its regulatory environment. A parliamentary committee raised concerns about the lack of coordination and unnecessary complexity and administration faced by companies in the space launch sector.
As part of the proposed changes, the Space Agency has launched a consultation on potential reforms. These include refunding license fees for companies committed to sustainable practices and introducing a range of liability and insurance policies.
Dr. Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, described the consultation as a significant step forward. He highlighted that the proposed changes would reduce risks associated with satellite operations and promote safe and sustainable practices. Ultimately, this would lead to reduced insurance and regulatory costs for operators and support increased investment in the UK space sector.
George Freeman, Minister for Space, emphasized the need for reform to give responsible satellite operators better licensing, insurance, and financing options. He acknowledged that although the space and satellite sector delivers valuable benefits, launching satellites remains expensive, risky, and difficult to finance.
The consultation also includes proposals for alternative insurance models, liability requirements for satellite operators, insurance for end-of-life and re-entry stages of missions, and a variable approach to setting fees for orbital operator licenses.
The UK government plans to implement some of the policy positions, while others are subject to feedback from consultees over the next 12 weeks.
In addition to regulatory reform, there is a vision to establish a space sustainability roadmap up to 2050 and beyond. The UK government has expressed support for the Earth & Space Sustainability Initiative (ESSI), an industry-led initiative working on developing universal Space Sustainability Principles. These standards are expected to be recognized by the finance and insurance communities and policymakers worldwide.
Joanne Wheeler, Director of ESSI, highlighted that the research conducted by ESSI will provide an objective understanding of space sustainability and guide steps that can be taken by various stakeholders to promote it.