Guidance

How we are promoting spaceflight from the UK

Information related to LaunchUK, the UK's commercial spaceflight programme.

What is LaunchUK?

LaunchUK branding poster

Spaceflight has come to the UK

Government’s vision is for the UK to be at the global forefront of small satellite launch and emerging space transportation markets – providing world-leading capability, bringing new markets to the UK and inspiring the next generation of British space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Our Spaceflight Programme aims to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports from 2022.

Our ambition is for the first UK launches to take place from 2022 and we have already put in place the Space Industry Act 2018, a flexible high-level regulatory framework.

Following the completion of the public consultation, Government response and Parliamentary debates, the Space Industry Regulations 2021, Space Industry (Appeals) Regulations 2021, the Spaceflight Activities (Investigation of Spaceflight Accidents) Regulations 2021 and the Contracting Out (Functions in Relation to Space) Order 2021 were laid before Parliament on the 8th July and came into force on 29th July 2021. This package of statutory instruments paves the way for the first launches from the UK, enabling the licensing of launch, return, orbital, spaceport and range control activities.

From the South of England to the North of Scotland, the UK offers a range of potential launch sites capable of hosting a variety of different spaceflight activity including both horizontal and vertical launch.

We also have strong international relationships, giving us access to global markets, financing and supply chains around the world. For example, the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) signed in June 2020 has paved the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology, enabling access to revenues and customers previously unavailable.

All this builds upon the UK’s well-established international relationships and reputation for regulatory standards, helping further cement the UK as Europe’s most attractive destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

To help grow the UK’s spaceflight capabilities, government is funding a range of industry-led projects including:

  • £31.5m to help establish vertical launch services from Scotland comprising: £2.5 million to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to develop Space Hub Sutherland; £5.5 million to Orbex to build a new rocket for launch from Sutherland; and £23.5 million in two separate grants to Lockheed Martin to establish launch operations at Saxa Vord Spaceport and to build an orbital manoeuvring vehicle in Reading which will launch on Lockheed Martin’s pathfinder launch.
  • £7.35m as part of £20m central and local government funding to support horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall;
  • Up to £1.3m to develop business plans for small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from airports in Machrihanish, Snowdonia and Cornwall.

Separately, we are also investing in related facilities and technology, including £99 million for a new National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell and £60 million to develop a revolutionary hybrid air-breathing rocket engine.

How are we doing this?

The government’s Spaceflight Programme brings together the UK Space Agency, Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Civil Aviation Authority, with support from the Health & Safety Executive.

The Civil Aviation Authority has now been appointed to undertake all Space Industry Act 2018 regulatory functions in addition to regulating orbital activities under the Outer Space Act 1986.

The CAA website has more information on applying for a licence for orbital operations, launch, return, spaceport and range control activities, including what to expect from the licensing process and the obligations of licensees.

If you are interested in carrying out spaceflight activity or associated activity under the Space Industry Act 2018 or the Outer Space Act 1986, and would like to meet the Civil Aviation Authority to discuss your plans or apply for a licence, please get in touch at commercialspaceflight@caa.co.uk.

Growing the market

So far, government has invested £40 million to grow the UK’s spaceflight capabilities and is funding a range of industry led projects including supporting vertical launches from a spaceport in Scotland and horizontal launches from Spaceport Cornwall.

Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand polar satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets. There are also a number of aerodromes around the UK, each with their own unique geography and local infrastructure, giving the UK the capability to host a variety of different types of spaceflight activity including both horizontal and vertical launch.

Government will work with any location interested in developing a commercial spaceport, and there are a number of potential launch sites the length of the country, from Newquay in Cornwall to Unst in the Shetland Isles. Wherever you are based in the UK, you are only ever a few hours from industrial centres, world class service providers, cultural centres and global logistic hubs.

Watch a UK spaceports animation

Separately, we are also investing in related facilities and technology, including £99 million for a new National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell and £60 million to develop a revolutionary hybrid air-breathing rocket engine.

The UK Space Agency and its partners across the UK government are committed to ensuring space investments build capability, advance scientific knowledge and generate strong economic return. There are a wide range of opportunities and organisations available to support space related companies in the UK, from incentives such as reduced taxes, simpler planning rules and financial benefits, to innovation funding and research grants.

The UK government sees the importance of investing resources and funding in world-class research and development (R&D) to support pioneering technology and services.

Government is committed to growing modern industrial capability across the UK, and is investing in new space facilities, technology and centres of excellence to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the ‘new commercial space age.’

For any spaceflight related queries, contact us at spaceflight@ukspaceagency.gov.uk.

If you have any queries related to spaceflight regulation, applying for a licence under the Space Industry Act 2018 or Outer Space Act 1986 or the licensing process, please contact the CAA at commercialspaceflight@caa.co.uk.

Working with International Partners

We are working with international partners to develop strong global relationships, ensuring we have access to markets, financing and supply chains all around the world. Furthermore, we are establishing the safeguards, protections and international agreements needed to facilitate a range of commercial spaceflight activities.

The signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) on 16 June 2020, has paved the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology, enabling the UK to access revenues and customers previously unavailable, while abiding by both countries’ commitments to non-proliferation. The UK Government will realise its obligations under the TSA principally through the Space Industry Regulations (2021), and through conditions on licences issued for spaceflight activities under the Space Industry Act 2018.

Read how the new US-UK agreement will boost UK spaceport plans.

Spaceflight legislation and guidance

Please follow this link to our ‘Spaceflight legislation and guidance’ page.

For a collection of further information, documents and past announcements, visit the commercial spaceflight programme information page.

Published 1 October 2020
Last updated 4 October 2021 + show all updates
  1. Including a link to 'Brochure: UK Spaceflight Programme'

  2. Edits made to remove regulation and licencing information.

  3. Updated LaunchUK brochure

  4. First published.