The Space Industry Bill was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech on 21 June 2017. It received its first reading in the House of Lords the week after on 27 June. The Space Industry Bill is the UK Spaceflight Act which was introduced into Parliament earlier this year but was only part way through the committee stage when the general election was called. The ‘new’ bill is unchanged.
There are several issues with the bill as it is, some of which I have discussed earlier. The Space Industry bill retains the provisions about the stratosphere, which could be interpreted as setting a boundary between air and space. The stratosphere ends at approximately 50km which is half the distance to the von Karman line, the commonly regarded but legally meaningless ‘air/space boundary’. This is, odd, as most states (with the notable exception of Australia which in its Space Activities Act 1998 defines space as beginning at 100km) avoid or even oppose defining and delimitating a boundary between air space (which is subject to national sovereignty) and outer space (which is not). This has been done to promote high altitude balloon activities but could have potentially negative consequences for the UK and could be done without this odd provision.
Furthermore, there are still the issues with ‘informed consent’ and no further elaboration has been given on what that actually means or entails or how it’ll work with say the Unfair Contract Terms Act. As well as the potential ITAR issues in providing the necessary information and training to commercial spaceflight participants.
Finally, as the Financial Times has reported, there are a number in the UK space Industry who are concerned about the fact that the Space Industry Bill contains “no mention of a cap introduced in 2015 that limited an operator’s liability for damage from their activities to €60m per satellite for standard launches.”
Fortunately, the legislative process has started again, so there will be further examination of the bill by both houses of Parliament and their relative committees. The Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has yet to be reformed after the General Election. The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee has been reappointed.
In other news, Spaceport Cornwall have announced a partnership with Orbital Access and apparently the UK is set to be home to the world’s first commercial astronaut training centre Blue Abyss which will be based at what will then be ex-RAF Henlow (about 40 miles north of London).