UK Transport Minister Trudy Harrison Wants First Launches from Cornwall This Summer
It is the start of a crucial year for the United Kingdom’s blossoming space industry. The U.K. government has set out to build a strong and vibrant industry over the next decade, and the country could see the first satellites launched from its soil this year, U.K. Transport Minister Trudy Harrison told Via Satellite.
In the following interview, Harrison details the U.K. government’s ambitions in the space arena, the importance of the Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council it just recently established and what we can expect to see from the U.K. space industry, and its new spaceport in Cornwall in 2022.
VIA SATELLITE: What is the importance of the Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council. What are the key objectives?
Harrison: This is a new area for the U.K. and space safety is of paramount importance. The Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council is a partnership between the industry and also the U.K. government to bring together myself and other ministers. We have senior level stakeholders involved, and it is to ensure that the U.K. has the right regulatory environment to support a growing U.K. spaceflight market, and really contribute towards the prime minister’s ambition and certainly the U.K.’s ambition to become a global leader in space. We are providing information advice and recommendations on the Space Industry Act 2018, the industry regulations 2021. We have been tasked to deliver recommendations on the delivery issues in the U.K. space sector, which are directly impacted by the Space Industry Act and commercial spaceflight regulations. We have had the first meeting on the 25 of November last year, and it will continue to meet every four months.
VIA SATELLITE: What hole does it fill from a regulatory perspective?
Harrison: Space launch is a new area for the U.K. The government response to our public consultation in 2020 was that we committed to continue to work with the spaceflight industry and regulators to keep the new regulations under review. We published the new Space Industry Regulations and Guidance in July last year, we are really grateful for the input we received from the space community. Now, that they are enforced, that input will be just as important as we learn to deliver licenses and operations in the coming years, which will start hopefully this year.
VIA SATELLITE: Given the volumes of satellites going up over the next few years, how can the council make it safe to operate in space?
Harrison: Safety is at the heart of the work that we do. We are committed to enabling safe and sustainable commercial spaceflights through efficient and effective regulations, so finding that balance is critical. The Space Industry Act 2018 enables companies to use cutting edge technologies while also safeguarding public safety. The Act provides an important and appropriate legal framework that supports safe, secure, and sustainable launch related operations from this country. It will sit alongside an already very well established Outer Space Act (1986), which is about the governance of U.K. space and satellite operations so far. This will apply to operations outside the U.K. Applicants seeking to operate spaceports, and carry out spaceflight activities will need to make sure that risks from their activities are properly understood and managed. That is where we are at the moment. We are speaking with operators ensuring safety there. The potential launch of spaceports and spaceport operators will be required to produce safety cases, for example, as part of the process.
VIA SATELLITE: How will the Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council work with other regulators/industry bodies around the world?
Harrison: We are working closely with the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but also membership of the Spaceflight Safety and Regulatory Council is a representation of the segments of the commercial spaceflight industry that are affected by the Space Industry Act and new commercial spaceflight regulations. We will ensure that we will continue to work together with industry to ensure that the U.K. is the safest and most effective regulator of space activities in the world. The work has just begun, so we will be exploring what other industry and regulatory bodies how we can work with to make sure we draw from the right levels of expertise as we move forward with the work in this sector.
VIA SATELLITE: Given that the U.K. aims to be a one-stop shop for space, manufacture, launch, operation, how important is the regulatory piece here?
Harrison: People now recognize up and down the country that we run on satellite technology, whether it is connecting people with their friends and family, to monitoring the environment, to combating climate change. My work with the future of transportation absolutely depends upon effective space connection. Space connects us all, and is core to our everyday lives. With the space industry regulations coming into force earlier this year, it is now possible to conduct launches into space from U.K. spaceports for the very first time. We know we stand on the cusp of Britain’s new commercial space age. We already have a thriving satellite manufacturing industry, and that was a really motivational factor to do this. We excel in the provision of satellite-based communications, so high end navigation services for example. This is why the U.K. government has this vision for the U.K. to be at the global forefront of small satellite launches, and these emerging space transportation markets. Also, in terms of where the launches are, it supports levelling up. It supports many additional high skilled jobs up and down the country. It gives our country greater control and options for getting our satellites into space and providing benefits for everyone.
VIA SATELLITE: Fast forward 12 months from now, what would you like to achieve in 2022?
Harrison: We have got to really focus on developing the U.K. launch capability. We already have a thriving satellite manufacturing industry. With the coming into force of the Space Industry Regulations, that is going to generate and support many more high skilled jobs. Our vision is for the U.K. to be at the global forefront of the launch and emerging space transportation markets. Delivering on that is a priority. The space industry in the U.K. is a success story of invention and innovation, of enterprise and spirit, and global ambition. It is fundamental to our country. We want to see the first U.K. launches take place in 2022, including, we hope, launches from Cornwall in the summer. We are working very closely with industry to develop the regulations, as well as guidance to establish the environment for space and responsible commercial operations. So, we have awarded grant funding to kickstart the commercial activities to achieve launch this year. This is about igniting a fast-paced U.K. spaceflight sector, creating the socio-economic benefits for communities right across the U.K. It is those launches. They are the priority. This is what we want to achieve.
VIA SATELLITE: What is the number one obstacle holding back the space economy in your opinion?
Harrison: Working with the industry, we have never really let obstacles stand in our way. We already have a really thriving space sector. It is unique. It is a success story. And with the coming into force of the new regulations, we have the most modern and progressive spaceflight regulations in the world. Our aim is pretty simple. We want to be the first country in Europe to offer small satellite manufacturers a direct, end-to-end route to launch. We want to build on the U.K.’s leading small satellite industry.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you have much background in the space sector before you took on this role within government? What have been your observations of the industry so far?
Harrison: I probably represent the vast majority of people across the U.K. who were using the connections that space and satellites enable us to have, albeit not really considering how I was able to find a route between two destinations, or connect with family and friends. It has been a revelation to learn that the U.K. space sector is worth over 16 billion pounds. It directly employs 45,000 people in the U.K. Satellite [services] support at least 360 billion pounds of the GDP. That was amazing to me actually, as I came into this role. It fits very well into this decarbonization agenda that I look after and the future of transport, as we think about connected and automated vehicles. That is going to depend on a thriving space sector.
I live on the West Coast of the Lake District, which is a particularly rural part of the U.K. When I speak to my colleagues in the Shetland, and Cornwall, I recognize the rural challenges, the social and economic challenges that sparsely populated, geographically isolated communities endure. It is why those colleagues are so enthusiastic about space launch. It is because of the opportunities it brings to levelling up in particular.
I have four daughters aged 18, 19, 22, and 23. It is great to be able to talk to them about space and satellites. I can now talk to them about how it relates to so much more in lives, and the future of the work they are doing. It is particularly exciting to be able to talk to young women who I think disproportionately weren’t represented, but now that is changing.