Guidance

Licence to operate a space object: how to apply

How to get a licence to launch or operate a spacecraft, satellite or manage other activities in outer space, under the Outer Space Act 1986.

Advance notification: introduction of a liability cap for UK Outer Space Act 1986 licensees

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Applying for a licence

UK nationals and companies intending to launch or procure the launch of a space object, operate a space object or carry on any other activity in outer space should make themselves familiar with the provisions of the Outer Space Act 1986 (PDF, 110KB, 8 pages) , plus the amendments made to the Act by the Deregulation Act 2015.

Unless acting as an employee or agent of another organisation, you need to apply for a licence at least six months in advance of carrying on the licensable activity. In certain circumstances it may be possible to process an application in a reduced timescale, although no guarantees can be given. Applications should be made using the licence application form below. Information for applicants, including notes to help complete the form, can also be found below.

There is flexibility in the UK approach to licensing and the UK Space Agency encourages potential applicants to contact them as early as possible to discuss the best way forward and solution for their mission.

Outer Space Act 1986 Licence Application Form: January 2017

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Guidance for applicants: July 2017

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Example of an Outer Space Act License (where a liability cap applies)

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Impact Assessment: Review of the Outer Space Act (1986)

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The Outer Space Act 1986

The Outer Space Act is the legal basis for the regulation of activities in outer space carried out by organisations or individuals established in the United Kingdom or one of its overseas territories or crown dependencies. It confers licensing and other powers on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy acting through the UK Space Agency.

The Act seeks to ensure compliance with the UK’s obligations under international treaties and principles covering the use of outer space, including liability for damage caused by space objects, the registration of objects launched into outer space and the principles for the remote sensing of the Earth.

Outer Space Act 1986

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Amendments made to the Outer Space Act 1986 by the Deregulation Act 2015.

Obligations of licensees

Once a licence has been granted, licensees are obliged to:

  • permit reasonable access to documents and inspection and testing of equipment and facilities by UK Space Agency or their advisors as appropriate
  • inform UK Space Agency of any change in the licensed activity (eg change of orbit, change of owner) and seek approval prior to the change being made
  • prevent contamination of outer space and adverse changes in the environment of the Earth
  • avoid interference in the space activities of others
  • avoid any breach of the UK’s international obligations
  • preserve the national security of the UK
  • insure themselves against third party liabilities (usually 60 million euro) arising from the licensed activity - the UK government should be named as an additional insured and insurance should be for the launch and in-orbit phases of the mission
    • for each licence application, a risk assessment will be performed to consider the potential risks posed by the mission and a commensurate level of insurance cover will be determined
    • in the majority of cases, involving single satellite missions employing established launchers, satellite platforms and operational profiles, this insurance cover would be limited to 60 million euro
  • dispose of the licensed space object appropriately at the end of the licensed activity and inform UK Space Agency of the disposal and termination of the activity

Background to the legislation

The UK is one of the pioneering nations in space activity. Today it has a leading reputation in a number of key space sectors both in the scientific and commercial arenas. The Outer Space Act was introduced in 1986 to manage the UK’s obligations under various UN space treaties and principles. In essence, these international agreements make the UK government responsible for ensuring that space activities carried out by UK individuals or organisations:

  • do not jeopardise public health or the safety of persons or property
  • are consistent with the international obligations of the UK

The agreements also mean that the UK government must:

  • maintain and make available a register of space objects launched by UK organisations or individuals
  • accept liability for 3rd party damage
  • seek to ensure that the activity will not impair national security

The Act stems from these obligations.

Specifically, the Act set out to:

  • provide regulation / licensing of UK space activities (via Secretary of State)
  • facilitate compliance with International Treaties
  • relieve UK government and taxpayers of some liabilities arising from the activities of private organisations or individuals
  • primarily cover Space (in-orbit) Operations

BEIS, through the UK Space Agency administers the Outer Space Act licensing activities. Since 1986, the Act has been amended a number of times through Orders in Council to extend its powers to crown dependencies and overseas territories or to amend the fees.

Outer Space Act Database of Standards

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Consultation: Reform of the Outer Space Act 1986

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Government Response to the Outer Space Act consultation

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UK space object register

UK registry of outer space objects

Supplementary registry of space objects

Published 16 April 2014
Last updated 17 July 2017 + show all updates
  1. Example of an Outer Space Act License (where a liability cap applies) updated into a new document.
  2. June guidance updated to July guidance.
  3. Input no longer required
  4. Application form updated.
  5. First published.