Follow up Written Evidence Submitted by Tim Johnson, Policy and Strategy Director, UK Civil Aviation Authority

(SPA0106)

 

 

On behalf of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, I would like to thank you and the rest of the Science and Technology Committee for the opportunity to come to speak with you on Wednesday 1 March. I hope that you and the committee found the session useful.

 

I am writing to provide you and the committee with the additional information we promised for when you write your report or decide to undertake further evidence sessions.

 

This additional submission covers four areas that were of specific interest to the committee on 1 March.

1.      Our learning as the UK’s Space Regulator

2.      How we work with licence applicants to ensure that the process is not excessively burdensome

3.      How our licencing regime compares with those of other countries

4.      Our licencing work aside from the failed Virgin Orbit launch from Spaceport Cornwall in January 2023

 

We are developing in our new role as the UK’s Space Regulator

 

Continuous learning is a core value of the Civil Aviation Authority with safety to the public as our key role. We have continuously improved our licence process since taking up the role in July 2021. Changes have included:

 


 

Finally, we have identified issues with the legislation which we have shared with government – there are almost 2,000 pages of legislation and guidance so it is to be expected there would be some things needing to be refined with experience of using in practice. We have shared our suggestions with government where the law could be changed to increase efficiency while maintaining or improving safety. Proposed changes include:

 

We will support Government with reviewing and proposing changes to Parliament.

 

Our work with applicants

 

We continue to provide significant advice and guidance to applicants during the licencing process. This support helps create stronger applications which in turn helps the Civil Aviation Authority do its job that puts public safety at its heart and improves the efficiency of the overall licencing process. This includes detailed information on our website, as well as access to workshops on various aspects of the application. When an application is made, applicants are able to access a wide range of supporting information which is constantly being reviewed and improved. We continue to licence orbital activities with a typical assessment taking 6 months, which is benchmarked and internationally competitive.

 

In the case of Virgin Orbit, the space regulation team communicated with the operator and launch facility on a more than weekly basis. This was supplemented by the space regulation team visiting Virgin Orbit at their main facilities in the United States six times and Spaceport Cornwall, in Newquay, around ten times. Indeed, there was no assertion from Virgin Orbit that they were dissatisfied with their engagement with the Civil Aviation Authority. This was constant up to the point we issued their licence (which as you know was in advance of VO achieving technical readiness for launch), and then continued subsequently as we moved to our oversight role.

 


The Committee also heard evidence from Joshua Western, Chief Executive Officer of Space Forge. Their returnable satellite platform is a first of its kind in the world and remains untested, so no regulatory model adequately addresses its needs at present. However, through engagement with the Civil Aviation Authority and others, this has begun to be addressed but significant challenges, both safety and technological in nature remain.

 

Our licencing process depends primarily on the quality, completeness and timeliness of the application, including the safety case. The level of risks in a mission to the public are not determined by the size of the organisation, so the size of the business is not part of their licence assessment. Licences are assessed as efficiently as possible within the legal framework provided to us by government, but in common with all high hazard sectors we do not licence to a target date such as launch.

 

We are continually working with the space industry to adapt and improve our approach to licencing keeping it timely while maintaining the vital role it plays in keeping UK space operations safe. In terms of charging there is no charge for launch, spaceport or range licences currently, although government has committed to bringing in cost recovery at some point in the future. We charge £6,500 per orbital licence, which has been in place for a number of years and was set by Government. To make the process quicker companies can come to us with more complete applications. Better understanding of the process has been shown to make it faster and smoother for all involved.

 

How our licencing regime compares with those of other countries

 

In terms of international comparisons, the Federal Aviation Administration takes a different approach, and they have a target of granting a licence within 180 days. However, they have a long pre-application period of 2-5 years ahead of any application being submitted. The Federal Aviation Administration also pause the clock if additional clarification is needed on any application.

 

There are very few other countries around the world who have regulatory regimes in place today that would permit commercial launch activity. So far as we are aware, Portugal and Luxembourg do not have such frameworks in place at this point.

 

It is also difficult to compare charging for satellites, as most regimes charge for a licence to use a range of the radio/electromagnetic spectrum rather than a satellite licence. We have seen increased applications to the UK from foreign launch and satellite companies which does not suggest the UK is not competitive as a regulatory regime.

 

Our licencing statistics

 

Since becoming the regulator in July 2021, we have granted c286 licences (this includes one additional one since we met the committee on 1 March, including:

 


 

The same date as the Virgin Orbit launch (which included 12 different Civil Aviation Authority processed licences) a rocket launched from the US with 40 more Civil Aviation Authority processed, licenced missions on board. This was part of the One Web constellation which currently numbers 542 satellites – the second largest constellation in low earth orbit.

 

A number of other applicants are at various stages of the licencing process as set out in the table below.

 

 

Licence type

 

Launch

Spaceport

Orbital

Range

Total

Pre-application phase

9

2

4

0

15

Full application phase

4

1

17

1

23

Total

13

3

20

1

37

 

I hope that you have found this additional information useful. Please do not hesitate to contact me or Sir Stephen Hillier if you require further information.

 

 

(March 2023)