LICENSING & SPACE MONITORING
169. The space industry in the UK is governed by
regulations derived primarily from the Outer Space Act 1986. This
Act requires UK individuals or organisations to apply for a licence
from DTI whenever they launch or procure the launch of a space
object, operate a space object or carry out any other activity
in outer space. The licensing process ensures: the financial health
of licensees; that activity does not pose risks to public health,
safety or security; an unlimited indemnity from the licensee to
HMG against any proven third party costs resulting from activities;
and third party liability insurance (to a minimum of £100
million) during the launch and while the satellite is in operation.
The Government is required to maintain a public register of space
objects launched by UK individuals.
170. Sir Martin Sweeting from SSTL told us that the
requirement to provide third party liability insurance was a burden
on industry. He explained that "as spacecraft are getting
smaller and lower cost the insurance for this [
] does not
actually shrink and the standing burden of the regulatory side
in the Space Act does become a larger proportion of these activities."
He noted that the burden created by regulation and insurance had
a significant impact upon SMEs and could suppress entrepreneurial
BNSC acknowledged that "Industry have often argued that the
potentially unlimited liability and the requirement to obtain
insurance cover during the operational phase (following launch)
are too onerous and anomalous compared to the other main space
171. In 2006, the DTI commissioned a review of the
licensing of space from Moreton Hall Associates and JRA Technology.
The review noted that there is "a need to update and enhance
the operation of the system."
The BNSC explained that it "highlighted the treatment of
liabilities for UK space activity and licence fees, that could
disadvantage UK companies."
As a result, the BNSC is considering "Possible future options
for handling liability" and "the appropriate licence
fee (currently a single charge of £6500 per application)
which has remained unchanged while the costs of processing have
In its consultation on the new strategy, the BNSC states that
"Increased clarity in regulatory regimes is an important
priority and the UK needs to continue to pursue discussion with
regulators in other key countries to establish the scope for co-operation
to minimise costs and regulatory burdens under the Outer Space
Act so as to maintain the UK as an attractive base for space operations."
The BNSC envisages undertaking a public consultation later this
year on its proposals.
We are concerned that the current licensing regime impedes
enterprise. We welcome the review of licensing and look forward
to the public consultation on BNSC's proposals. We recommend that
the BNSC pay particular attention to the needs of SMEs in this
172. The Government is also responsible for monitoring
objects in space. There is an increasing amount of space debris
orbiting the Earth. Space Insight told us that
"The environment within which Earth orbiting
satellites operate is becoming increasingly crowded. Each year,
launches have added new objects to the resident space population
of man-made objects faster than the rate of attrition by atmospheric
Debris in orbit below 600km normally falls back to
Earth, whilst that at 800 km tends to stay in orbit. In 2004,
the BNSC stated that there were over 9000 tracked objects larger
than 10 cm orbiting the Earth and over 100,000 objects between
1cm and 10 cm.
Given the large number of objects in space, there is a risk of
collisions. In 1996 the French satellite Cerise collided with
a piece of debris from an Ariane launch vehicle. 
The Space Shuttle has had to undertake several avoidance manoeuvres
to avoid collisions with debris.
173. Space monitoring is necessary to ensure compliance
with regulations and adherence to standards that will reduce space
debris. Space Insight argued that "Because satellites are
being made ever-cheaper by a wide range of manufacturers, standards
to minimise debris production and to specify de-orbiting timescales
are essential for the protection of the space environment."
space also provides information that can be useful for governments
or satellite operators. The primary source of data is currently
a catalogue produced by US Space Command but according to Space
Insight, this catalogue is "of limited accuracy, and is deliberately
174. The BNSC is working on this problem at international
and national levels. Internationally, the UK participates in the
Inter-Agency Space Debris Co-ordination Committee and United Nations
bodies such as the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
At a national level, the BNSC announced in November 2006 that
it had awarded a £75,000 contract to a space surveillance
project and a £33,000 contract to a space debris re-entry
prediction project. The company that won these contracts, Space
Insight, foresaw that ESA and the EU may bring forward proposals
for a space surveillance network at the ESA Ministerial in 2008.
We welcome the BNSC's funding for space surveillance. We recommend
that future plans for this area, particularly in relation to a
possible European project for space surveillance, be outlined
in the new space strategy.