Space launch rules changed but sector awaits strategy

Ministers have said that spaceports are expected to be in operation in the UK from next summer after laying regulations in Parliament that will mean satellites and rockets can launch from UK soil for the first time.

The Department for Transport said the legislation, developed with the UK Space Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority, will come into force this summer ‘and will help propel the development of commercial spaceflight technologies, from traditional rockets to high-altitude balloons and spaceplanes’.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘This is a pivotal moment for our spaceflight ambitions. Since the start of the spaceflight programme in 2017, we have been clear that we want to be the first country to launch into orbit from Europe.

‘The laying of these regulations puts us firmly on track to see the first UK launches take place from 2022, unlocking a new era in commercial spaceflight for all four corners of our nation.’

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: ‘Continuing to grow our launch capability will help bring jobs and economic benefits across the UK. The Space Industry Regulations we’ve tabled today will create a supportive, attractive and safe environment for commercial spaceflight.

‘Today marks another crucial milestone that will enable the first launches from British soil in 2022 and make UK commercial spaceflight a reality.’

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Potential launch sites in the UK. Source: LaunchUK

Officials said spaceports are planned for Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. These include a mix of vertical and horizontal launch facilities.

Last year, the UK government the approval of plans for Lockheed Martin to transfer its satellite launch operations to Shetland Space Centre on the island of Unst.

Although LaunchUK, the UK Government's commercial spaceflight programme, has said a spaceport at Llanbedr airfield in Snowdonia will open next year, plans appear to be less well advanced. Last October the Welsh Government pledged £7.38m towards an access road, which is seen as essential to the project.

In 2018 BEIS said projects in Scotland were the ‘first step towards a potential Space Sector Deal’.

BEIS told Transport Network that plans for a national space strategy have replaced the potential sector deal.

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