UK Spaceports: Regulatory, Environmental, Health and Safety Considerations

with contribution from Steve Purnell, Partner, ERM

The U.K. government have announced the award of funding for a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland. This grant marks the intention of the U.K. to move back into the spaceflight business.

This will allow the world-leading U.K. smallsat manufacturing, operations and application industry to be able to launch satellites from the U.K. (and not rely on a limited supply of launches abroad) - making the U.K. a one-stop shop for satellites services. The announcement also brings the U.K.’s ambition of gaining 10 percent of the global space market by 2030 more closely within reach.

Public Safety

The U.K.’s regulatory framework for the development of space ports is widely regarded as one of the most modern and sustainable anywhere globally. The coming into effect of the U.K.’s Space Industry Act in March this year demonstrates how enabling, forward-looking regulation is a key factor in the U.K.’s future space industry success.

An important part of the new legislation, and its relationship with existing European and U.K. regulation, concerns the environmental, health and safety aspects of space port development and operation. Political and public confidence in the requirements and their implementation will be imperative for such developments to be sustainable. A major factor in approving sites under the new legislation and other applicable regulations is the likely impact on surrounding populations and the natural environment (both land-based, coastal and marine). Risk assessments are required to ensure the safety and continued well-being of both the site operators and their employees and local populations. The effects of noise, propellants, emissions, and importantly the worse-case scenario of rocket failure, must all be considered.

Hazard risk assessment is commonplace across the transport sector and hazardous industries. During the detailed site development and permitting processes, emphasis is placed on the risk of major accidents occurring. Space port development can draw on lessons learned from other regulated industries (e.g. the oil and gas industry) about safety and security concerns and engagement with the communities where they are located. Emergency planning is integral to this with safety cases being developed, setting out how risks will be managed. These are just some of the aspects that need to be taken into consideration when considering the lifecycle of a spaceport or rocket launch site. Dr. Adam Baker, co-founder of UK Launch Services Ltd (UKLSL) commented “an economically self sustaining spaceport operations plan matching the cadence of launches expected from the U.K. in the near term is challenging but attainable."


The U.K. has strong experience of developing innovative technology, building infrastructure, fostering growth in key industries and meeting environmental, health and safety requirements. In the north of Scotland, oil and gas is a prime example of a successful regulated industry. This is the case around the location of the spaceport granted funding by the UK Space Agency and in Shetland, the location of another future spaceport. The oil and gas industry has brought significant economic benefits to the local and the wider U.K. economy.

The local community in Shetland recognize the value of the energy industry and now already appreciate the value that a spaceport would bring. As Frank Strang, Director of Shetland Space Centre, states “Shetland Island Council are fully engaged as a stakeholder in the Shetland Space Centre and provide both expertise and support to facilitate the development of the project.” “As the benefits of the oil and gas industry, that is undergoing a transformational change, deplete as production diminishes Shetland needs to diversify its economy and there is a recognition by all that the space economy could bring significant long-term benefits to the Islands.” VS

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