CAA becomes UK space regulator and launches licencing regime

Posted on 30 July, 2021 by Advance 

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has become the UK's space regulator and is now open for business to any UK or international company that wants to operate under a UK space licence.


The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) offices are at Gatwick.
Copyright CAA

As part of its new responsibilities, the CAA is launching a fully tested digital application system that has been developed to allow space companies in all forms - commercial spaceflight technologies, satellite construction and operations, traditional vertically launched vehicles, air-launched vehicles and balloons as well as spaceports, and range service providers - to start their licence application today.

With nearly 50 years of regulating aviation, the CAA has a wealth of experience and a proven track record in overseeing the aviation sector in the UK, which is one of the safest in the world, as well as experience in regulating rocket activities under the Air Navigation Order 2016.

The estimated time for the delivery of a launch licence is between 9-18 months depending on complexity and the quality of preparations by licence applicants.  The CAA expects the first launch licence will be granted next year to meet the UK Government's ambition of the first orbital rocket launch for satellites in Europe in 2022. Industry operators will be able to hold a licence that covers multiple launches.

The regulator's approach has been designed to help make the UK home to the world's safest and most innovative space industries.

Colin Macleod, Head of UK Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: "For the last 18 months we have been preparing to become the regulator. We have built an experienced team working across policy, engineering and licensing, in the space sector. We have developed and tested the processes and systems we need to ensure the licensing regime works. And we have been working with the wider space industry to explain what the regulations mean, how the new framework will work, and how they apply. This means space companies can apply for a licence as soon as they are ready.

"We will act in a safe, secure and sustainable manner to protect the people and property involved, other airspace users and enable a growing and active space industry.”

Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “The UK already has a leading satellite industry and can capitalise on further growth within the space sector. The regulatory framework that the Government is putting in place allows for innovation and new technology underpinned by high standards of safety and security. Space will be embedded within the CAA's wider ecosystem, drawing on, and contributing to, wider experience and expertise across the organisation. We will be an open, effective and proportionate regulator.”

The UK is well-placed to capitalise on the growth of the space sector, with the right geography, business environment and a thriving industry all underpinned by a safety regulatory regime that has the highest standards of public protection, while being proportionate and enabling innovation and technology to thrive.

Working with the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the UK Space Agency, the CAA recognises its important role in the development of the UK space industry.

The licensing process will require applicants to provide a detailed assessment of safety and security considerations, including, a comprehensive safety case, an environmental assessment, financial resources, security and cyber risk mitigation.

The CAA will only regulate where it has to and will tailor its approach to meet the specific needs of each and every space mission. In doing this, the benefits of the regulation will outweigh any burden or cost imposed. This has been the case with aviation innovators and is a principle that the regulator will apply to the space industry.

A full assessment of the application, including seeking independent assurance, will then follow, before finally seeking the Secretary of State's consent for the licence to be issued.

The CAA will also carry out monitoring and oversight as operations are conducted.

As the UK's airspace regulator, the CAA will also handle any temporary or airspace changes required to enable space activities from UK soil to take place.

New regulations for spaceflight and satellite launches from UK soil

The appointment of the CAA as UK regulator for the UK space sector, cames alongside the passing of new spaceflight regulations, announced yesterday by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The legislation provides the framework to regulate the UK space industry and enable launches to take place from British soil for the very first time. It will unlock a potential £4 billion of market opportunities over the next decade, creating thousands of jobs and benefiting communities right across the UK.

This also puts the UK in a unique position as the first country in Europe able to launch spacecraft and satellites from home soil. This could lead to better monitoring of climate change, as well as improved data for satellite navigation systems, improving journeys right here on the ground, too.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "We stand on the cusp of the new commercial space age, and this is the ‘blast off’ moment for the UK’s thriving space industry, demonstrating government’s commitment to put Britain at the global forefront of this sector.

"These regulations will help create new jobs and bring economic benefits to communities and organisations right across the UK, helping us to level up as we inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers."

In time, the UK will also start to see new and emerging space activity including sub-orbital space tourism and, eventually, new transport systems such as hypersonic flight. Not only will this support our thriving space sector, it will also attract companies from around the globe to come to, and benefit from, these commercial opportunities.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: "The first satellite launches from UK spaceports in 2022 will be a remarkable moment – and these new regulations have taken us a step closer to being the first country in Europe to achieve lift-off from home soil.

"By creating world-class legislation to support our growing space sector in a safe and sustainable way, we are delivering new jobs and economic growth to communities right across the UK."

The President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Howard Nye, said: "The Royal Aeronautical Society welcomes this landmark day for the UK’s space sector with the timely passage into law of the Space Industry Regulations. This provides the legal and regulatory framework to enable commercial spaceflight launches from UK soil, thereby broadening the scope of our commercial space sector.

"The Society also strongly supports the nomination of the CAA with its world-class reputation as the new UK spaceflight regulator and welcomes its readiness to process licence applications for satellite launch with immediate effect."

ADS Chief Executive Kevin Craven said: "The applications of space technology are rapidly evolving and the UK’s dynamic space sector is set to continue growing its £16 billion contribution to our economy.

"Putting in place this regulatory framework is another important step towards making commercial space launch from UK spaceports a reality, which will offer major opportunities throughout our space industry and its supply chain."