Britain To Reduce Space Insurance Requirements, May Ease Smallsat Licensing Rules

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PARIS — The British government on April 30 agreed to adopt industry recommendations to reduce the amount of insurance that satellite companies need to purchase before government guarantees on third-party liability take effect.

The government also agreed to take a fresh look at how very small satellites, including cubesats, are regulated in the United Kingdom with a view to reducing the amount of paperwork needed to obtain an operating license.

In a recognition that many national and local governments are still in the dark about how space-based technologies could help them serve their constituents, the British government agreed to double, to 1 million British pounds ($1.7 million), its annual spending to promote space solutions.

The government’s actions came in response to proposals made by industry in late 2013 as part of a 15-year plan to increase the economic activity of the space sector, which is already among the most dynamic high-technology sectors in Britain. 

The proposals came in the wake of a substantial increase in government space spending since 2013 as the British government — and especially Science Minister David Willetts, who has charge of the nation’s space policy — has come to view space as an engine for economic growth.

Industry had asked that the required amount of third-party liability insurance coverage it needs for a given space mission be reduced from the current 80 million pounds. The government agreed that it would reduce the ceiling to 60 million pounds “as soon as possible” by modifying Britain’s Outer Space Act.

Beyond the ceiling figure, government agrees to cover most losses stemming from space accidents.

In another example of its increasingly industry-friendly space policies, the British government agreed to review existing regulations for small satellites with an eye toward boosting its industry’s competitiveness in the growing field. 

Britain is home to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and other companies that have made a specialty of building small satellites. SSTL has been a British export champion.

Clyde Space of Glasgow, Scotland, which builds small satellites, on April 10 said it booked a record 3 million pounds in new business in its 2013 fiscal year and would triple its manufacturing space to keep up with demand.

Clyde Space built the UKube-1 satellite, scheduled for launch in June aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket operated from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The small-satellite sector in Britain had hoped the government might agree to all but eliminate licensing requirements for very small spacecraft, some weighing no more than a few kilograms, as a way of stimulating the growth of a sector that is already growing quickly. The government promised to review the current regulatory regime “to improve the UK space sector’s international competitiveness.”

The U.K. Space Agency, responding to another industry request, said it would issue initial conclusions from a National Space Flight Coordination Group on “developing a UK spaceport and starting commercial space flight from the U.K.”

Some new technologies being introduced into small satellites make it feasible to consider a British spaceport.

Britain’s increased government space spending has attracted not only local British companies but other European space enterprises to set up shop in Britain, where Airbus Defence and Space has long received the lion’s share of government space contracts.

In the most recent example, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, which in the past two years has created subsidiaries in Germany and Belgium, on April 30 said it was creating one at Britain’s Harwell technology campus in Oxfordshire.

“The decision to create a new subsidiary in the UK was spurred by the UK government’s commitment to fund space activities,” the company said in a statement.

 

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