Launching things into space means starting from the land and travelling through the air, creating a set of legal responsibilities for operators. The use of space is governed by international law, meaning that payloads such as satellites are also subject to regulations.
Who governs spaceports?
Any spaceport in the UK will be subject to UK laws. As the UK has never had a spaceport before, a lot of new laws and regulations need to be put in place, which started with the Space Industry Act 2018. This established who will regulate UK spaceports and that their primary duty is to secure public safety as well as complying with all other existing environmental, planning and health and safety legislation. The act also requires spaceflight activities in the UK to be licensed.
The UK Space Agency, Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority continue to work closely together to develop the secondary legislation, guidance, and regulator for launch following Royal Assent of the Space Industry Bill. The new regulator is expected to be established and accepting and accessing applications and monitoring activities in early 2021.
Why do we need laws?
Having laws in place means that spaceport operators will have a legal obligation to conduct their work in a way that considers environmental and safety assessments. If they break the law, they could be fined or even forced to stop operating. A legal framework is also needed so that spaceport operators can insure their vehicles and payloads. Insurance companies will not cover activities if they are illegal or if legality is in doubt.
What other space laws are there?
International space law is very important. It ensures that different countries can have satellites and spacecraft operating in space without conflict. The basis of all international space law is the 1967 UN Treaty on Outer Space. This means that all space law takes into account Article I of the treaty, which states that the exploration and use of outer space is carried out in the interests of all countries. It also encourages international cooperation.