Space Law in the UK

Space and the law that governs it is moving up the agenda. The UK has been reaching for the stars since the launch of its first satellite, Ariel 1, in 1962 and is aiming to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030. In order to achieve this goal the UK is committed to maintaining a competitive and progressive regulatory system on a global scale. But what underpins all of this space law? In this article, we highlight the current legal framework of the UK space industry and how it has evolved over the years and how it may be of benefit to you.

Why might this matter to you?

So, why does the Outer Space Act (OSA) and now the Space Industry Act (SIA) matter? Well, the regulation of space activities is crucial for maintaining safety and security in a rapidly advancing industry. With the increasing number of countries and private companies investing in space exploration and technology, it’s essential to have a clear regulatory framework that ensures responsible and sustainable actions in outer space. The OSA and SIA are not just about granting licenses for launches and satellite operations, but also about protecting the environment, mitigating potential hazards, and preventing harmful interference with other space activities. So, whether you’re a space enthusiast, a scientist, or a business owner looking to launch your next big idea into the space industry, the OSA and SIA are there to make sure you don’t accidentally create a real-life Armageddon scenario up in the heavens.

As well as a bit more detail below on UK legislation, there are also some international treaties dealing with space. The five United Nations treaties governing space activities provide a framework for countries to peacefully coexist in the vast expanse of space. The Outer Space Treaty establishes that space is free for exploration and use by all nations and prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space. The Rescue Agreement requires countries to provide assistance to astronauts in distress and return them safely to Earth. The Liability Convention establishes liability for damage caused by space objects and requires countries to carry insurance to cover such damages. The Registration Convention requires countries to register their space objects with the United Nations. And finally, the Moon Agreement establishes the legal framework for the exploration and use of the Moon and other celestial bodies. Together, these treaties cover everything a galactic civilisation needs to know to avoid space wars and maintain cosmic harmony. So, if you’re planning on blasting off into the final frontier, don’t forget to take your copy of the treaties – you never know when you’ll need to brush up on your interstellar law! (click here to review the treaties in detail:

The UK Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA)

The OSA served as the foundation for the regulation of actions carried out in outer space by organisations or people based in the UK, its Crown dependencies, and some foreign territories until the Space Industry Act (SIA) came into effect in 2021. The OSA regulated space activities conducted in, from, or on behalf of the United Kingdom or by UK corporations abroad (click here to view: Organisations that ordered an overseas launch or ran a satellite from the UK had to be licensed under the OSA. So essentially, if you wanted to launch something into space from the UK, you needed to get a license, or you might find yourself lost in space.

Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA)

The SIA came into effect in July 2021. The SIA is the primary legislation governing any space-related operations conducted in or out of the United Kingdom, including:

a. the procurement of a UK launch (space or suborbital);

b. launch (space or suborbital) and return (re-entry);

c. the operation of a satellite in orbit from a UK facility;

d. the operation of a spaceport in the United Kingdom; and

e. the provision of range control services in the United Kingdom.

The SIA enables launches from the UK and establishes a high-level framework for commercial spaceflight operations (click here to view:  So, if you’re planning on launching a rocket from your backyard in the UK, make sure you check the SIA first!

The specific guidelines necessary to implement and apply the SIA are laid down in the Space Industry Regulations 2021. The regulations provide for the licensing and regulation of spaceflight activities, including launch and in-orbit operations, spaceports, and range control services.

Other Legislation

The Spaceflight Activities (Investigation of Spaceflight Accidents) Regulations 2021 establish a spaceflight accident investigation body and provide for the conduct of accident investigations (click here to view:  The Space Industry (Appeals) Regulations 2021 outline the decisions made by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that may be appealed by a license applicant or holder and create the decision-making body to hear appeals and set the procedures and timescales for making and deciding appeals (click here to view: The Regulator’s Licensing Rules support the CAA’s power relating to the granting and renewal of operator, spaceport, and range control licenses under the SIA.

Guidance Documents

The UK government has published several guidance documents to support the implementation and application of the SIA. These include guidance on applying for a license, principles and guidelines for the spaceflight regulator in assessing ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) and acceptable risk, and guidance for launch operator and return operator license applicants and licensees.

There is also guidance for spaceport license applicants and licensees, range control license applicants and licensees, and orbital operator license applicants and licensees. In addition, there is guidance for the assessment of environmental effects, security matters for applicants and licensees, and the investigation of spaceflight accidents.

Importance of a Progressive Regulatory System

A well-designed and progressive regulatory system is essential for the growth of the space industry in the UK. Such a system should support innovation while also maintaining high standards of safety, security, and environmental protection. It should also be flexible and adaptive, allowing for the introduction of new technologies and business models.

The UK government is committed to maintaining a progressive regulatory system for the space industry. The UKSA has established a Space Regulatory Review (SRR) to evaluate the effectiveness of the regulatory regime and propose improvements where necessary. The SRR will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback on the existing regulatory system and suggest changes that will enable the growth of the industry.

In addition to supporting the growth of the space industry, a progressive regulatory system can also help the UK to achieve its sustainability goals. Who knew that space-based applications could be so down to earth? From climate change to food security, it seems like there’s nothing the space industry can’t solve. All in all, it looks like the UK is shooting for the stars with their regulatory system.


The UK has a long history of innovation and thought leadership in the space industry. The government and industry stakeholders recognise the potential for growth in this sector, with the goal of capturing 10% of the global space market by 2030. A progressive regulatory system is critical to achieving this goal, supporting innovation while ensuring safety, security, and environmental protection.

The UK’s regulatory system has undergone significant changes over the years, with the UKSA taking over from the BNSC in 2010 and the CAA assuming control of space regulation in 2021. The SIA, which became operative in July 2021, provides a high-level framework for commercial spaceflight operations, including launches, returns, and satellite operations. The regulations, guidelines, and other documents published by the UK government provide detailed guidance on how to comply with the SIA.

The UK government is committed to maintaining a progressive regulatory system for the space industry. The Space Regulatory Review provides an opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback on the existing system and suggest improvements. A well-designed and progressive regulatory system is essential for the growth of the space industry in the UK, and it can also help the country to achieve its sustainability goals.

The space industry has the potential to provide significant benefits to society, including improved communications, weather forecasting, navigation, and environmental monitoring. The UK government’s commitment to supporting the growth of this sector through a progressive regulatory system is a positive step towards realising these benefits.

Who knows, in a few decades, we might all be taking holidays on the moon or Mars. And we’ll have the UK’s regulatory system to thank for ensuring that we get there safely.

So, keep on exploring, UK, the final frontier is here!

If you want to discuss any aspect of Space Law, get in touch.