Written Evidence Submitted by Skyrora
Skyrora designs, manufactures and deploys rockets to clear the way for small satellite manufacturers looking to access Space. Headquartered in Edinburgh, and with facilities across Europe, Skyrora is developing launch vehicle technology to ensure that the life-changing benefits of space are realised here on earth.
Since its inception in 2017, Skyrora Limited has focused on making the concept of Sovereign launch a reality. The company has been proactively engaging through industry with stakeholders, playing its part in ensuring the totality of industry's experience, insight and resource is correctly evaluated by both the regulatory authorities, the UKSA, and more broadly Government.
Only by positioning ourselves as a resource and collaborator to enable launch will we have any hope of sharing the full extent of the socio-economic arguments that we believe launch, and having a coherent Space value chain, will deliver to the United Kingdom.
To this end we have sought to put industry's points by supporting extensive industry representation at Westminster including the Commons Space debate on 4th February 2021, and subsequent industry input into the Taskforce for Innovative Growth through Regulatory Reform.
In short, as a company that is so heavily invested in the future of spaceflight in the UK, we believe that this current inquiry should help significantly to address a large number of outstanding matters ("teething problems") and above all demonstrate just how the UK could, and should, embrace a new wave of economic development underpinned by science, technology and engineering ability.
The UK has an incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of space research, manufacturing, and satellite launches in a phase of exponential growth. Although the UK already builds a large number of satellites, the space sector is growing at a tremendous rate, and with that growth comes further opportunity. The space manufacturing industry creates thousands of jobs within the UK, and as rapid technological advancements are made, the positive economic effects will only increase. But there is a risk that the UK will not capitalise on this significant opportunity.
We believe that the main, overarching reason for this is due to the lack of a clearly articulated and defined Government Strategy for the space industry focusing on launch.
Further important points include:
Skyrora urges the Government to be mindful of these issues as it seeks to publish its new UK Space Strategy.
As the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, stated in respect of this consultation:
“The satellite industry is one of the fastest growing in the world and Britain has had a strong position in the research, development and manufacture of satellites and the systems that make use of them. If the UK is to be a leading force we need to develop and execute a space strategy which builds on our strengths and equips us for the future. Our inquiry will examine what we need to do to make the most of this formidable opportunity”.
We strongly agree with Rt Hon Greg Clark MP – if we are to be capitalise on this opportunity, we must create and deliver a space strategy that utilises our strengths and allows us to build a launch environment which is fit for purpose in the long term.
Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (then Business Secretary) also stated in a publication dated 15 July 2018:
“As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”
In order to reach this goal, the launch environment must allow it; the Government must act to facilitate this ambition.
Response and recommendations
Skyrora has considered the topics outlined and has provided answers to those in which it has the expertise to comment. We have stressed the considerations for Government and wish to support, engage, and assist where possible, so that the UK can achieve a viable, successful, and thriving long term domestic space industry.
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships;
It has been around 50 years since the Black Arrow rocket conducted its first successful flight. It was also around this time that the Prospero satellite was launched from Woomera, Australia. Since then, the UK has become one of the most significant satellite manufacturers, building more satellites than anywhere else outside California, USA.
The UK has excellent relationships with other countries in respect of the space industry, including Australia and the USA, and many others are looking to collaborate with the UK. Furthermore, the UK recently signed the ‘Space Bridge’ partnership with Australia, and the UK-US Technology Safeguards Agreement. The prospect of solidifying the UK’s global position as a major space nation is extremely promising.
Whilst it has been noted that we cannot achieve Tier 1 status equivalent to China and the USA, we can indeed reach Tier 2, putting us on par with Japan, Germany, Italy and France. In order to achieve this, the UK requires sufficient funding, and a desire and motivation to reach this stage. Industry is working hard, continuously growing, evidencing its innovation, as well as being mindful of the sustainability challenges facing our climate and planet. But industry needs the support and resources of Government to unleash the UK space industry’s full potential.
According to the OECD, the Government space budget share of GDP for several comparable countries is as follows:
- Italy: 0.049% (2017)
- France: 0.105% (2017)
- Germany: 0.047% (2017)
- New Zealand: 0.003% (2017)
The United Kingdom’s figure is: 0.021% (2017)
The figures for Tier 1 countries are as follows:
- United States: 0.248% (2017)
- China: 0.08% (2017)
To be competitive, the Government must provide sufficient funding and investment to enable the UK space industry to hit its target of capturing 10% of the global space market by 2030.
It has been noted that there are numerous departments which have differing levels of oversight in areas of relevance to the space industry. This has, overall, hindered growth due to a lack of central decision making. There needs to be a smooth, connected approach between departments.
We recommend that:
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base;
The UK space industry makes an incredible contribution to society and to the lives of people across the country. It is utilised in numerous ways – from our phones and satellite navigation systems, to monitoring climate change – and provides thousands of jobs. This will only increase as technology develops. But to compete with other countries, the UK needs a commercial spaceflight regulatory framework for domestic launch which is both enabling and competitive. Failing to achieve on either count will result in a loss of momentum and market opportunity.
One of the main weaknesses of the UK space sector includes our lack of ability for domestic launch. Although the new rules and regulations will come into force in due course, this should be done as soon as possible to ensure competitiveness.
The UK has a world class research and innovation base, but the Government, its authorised departments, and industry all need to work together - collaboratively - to ensure a successful commercial launch system.
As Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps correctly outlined in an article published on 26 May 2021:
“The UK enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only country to have launched its own satellite on its own launcher and then withdrawn from the game. Why did we do this? Well, money is always a factor but it was also a failure of ambition. We have scientific and engineering talent in abundance here in these islands. We just have to back it.”
The UK had incredible success around 50 years ago when launching Prospero but did not capitalise on the opportunity. It is now time to recapture the lost ambition, and this can only happen with collaboration between the Government, regulator, and industry, and ensuring sufficient resources are invested to propel industry forward.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries;
The UK can emulate many of the successes seen abroad. Indeed, the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) introduced in the House of Commons in March this year stands as an example of this. This new research body will fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research. Its principles mirror that of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), exercising a “high degree of freedom and autonomy… minimal bureaucracy and maximal financial flexibility”.
To reach its full potential, ARIA will need to encapsulate the quintessential components that make DARPA such a success. The UK should be commended for identifying and actively learning from other countries.
Previous UK space strategies have shown little consideration of launch activity. As demonstrated by the US and other launch states, the regulator must first obtain a fundamental understanding of launch activity to make industry-wide strategic decisions. The UK space industry has been largely dominated by satellite manufacture and data capture, resulting in little consideration of launch activity. The strategic approach should be made in the context of the entire space value chain, including launch activity.
The UK should identify those key skills in driving strategic excellence and allow additional value where it is needed. As ever, these decisions should be grounded in environmental and sustainable practises, demonstrating a responsible and inclusive approach to the UK's leadership in this area.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of:
- skills and diversity;
- research funding, investment and economic growth;
- civil and defence applications;
- international considerations and partnerships;
- current regulatory and legislative frameworks and impact on UK launch potential; and
- impacts of low Earth orbit satellites on research activities.
Providing investment to support technological advancements and developments in the space sector. But also considering the potential adverse impact on the new UK Space Strategy objectives from the US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement. Moreover, overly onerous regulatory requirements - which hinders growth – should be avoided where possible.
Skills and diversity
Engaging with universities, colleges, and schools from across the country, to ensure a capable talent pool for highly skilled jobs, as well as other supportive roles across the sector.
Research funding, investment and economic growth
Providing sufficient investment to allow the UK to create job opportunities and undertake research, to meet its 2030 target of 10% of the global space market.
Regularly engaging with industry to ensure alignment – it is only through alignment and a greater collaboration that we will be successful as a country to gain access to Space
Civil and defence applications
In the context of national security, improved engagement with global markets will allow the UK to leverage disruptive innovation and improve interoperability with allies and Five Eyes (FVEY). Specifically, increased investment in space situational awareness will allow defence applications to harness expertise and knowledge in the UK.
Defence applications should interact meaningfully with commercial markets to ensure technical development in the private sector meets the needs of defence, thus improving investment and innovation in the commercial landscape.
International considerations and partnerships
Maintaining, improving, and increasing international partnerships. Building on relationships, such as the UK-Australia Space Bridge, with a view to creating more innovative collaborations internationally.
Recognising the importance of devolved administrations (especially considering relevant devolved competences) in respect of launch. For example, launch from Scottish spaceports will involve consultation with a number of local agencies, such as Marine Scotland and Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Current regulatory and legislative frameworks and impact on UK launch potential
The main barrier for the space sector is a regulatory eco-system which does not sufficiently value collaboration and too often stifles rather than supports industry. The problem is partly structural; regulation of space is fragmented across multiple agencies and departments. But the problem is also cultural. In many ways, the space sector is more akin to rapidly innovating sectors such as the life sciences and fintech than to the more conventional aviation industry. A dynamic industry needs dynamic regulations and dynamic regulators.
Skyrora has a number of more detailed recommendations addressing regulatory and legislative issues:
There is an increasingly complex and fragmented space regulatory landscape, which is struggling to keep pace with the exponential changes in science and technology. This has led to a slow and disjointed approach to regulation which threatens to slow growth and deter investment.
Given both the environmental footprint of the space industry and the immense environmental benefits from the application of space data, it is important that environmental regulators are a central player in the development and implementation of space regulation in the UK.
UK government should:
- Task the Better Regulation Executive and Better Regulation Units in the relevant departments and TIGRR to urgently review regulation of space and ensure best practice;
- Consider strengthening the National Space Council to pull together space regulation and ensure a joined-up approach. This could draw on the proposal from the Kalifa Review for a Digital Economy Taskforce. It would provide a ‘single customer view’ of the Government’s regulatory strategy on space and a single touchpoint for the private sector to engage;
- Include the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales, Maritime Coastguard Agency, Marine Scotland and Defra in the strategic approach to space regulation.
The Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) published a report in May 2021. Proposal 15 in that report advised the Government to address the indemnity and liability issues currently holding back investor confidence in the UK. It suggested amending the Space Industry Act 2018 to cap liability and indemnity requirements for licence applicants to launch and operate satellites from the UK.
Section 36 of the Space Industry Act 2018 puts an obligation on a person carrying out spaceflight activities to indemnify the Government for damage or loss arising out of said activities:
36 Obligation to indemnify government etc against claims
(1) A person carrying out spaceflight activities must indemnify—
(a) Her Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom, or
(b) a person or body listed in subsection (2),
against any claims brought against the government, or the person or body, in respect of damage or loss arising out of or in connection with those activities.
Section 220 of the Space Industry Regulations 2021 puts a limit on the amount of operator’s liability:
Limit on the amount of operator’s liability
220.—(1) An operator licence must specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability in respect of—
(a) injury or damage arising out of spaceflight activities under section 34(2), and
(b) any third party liability arising out of spaceflight activities which may be incurred by the operator in respect of the death of or bodily injury to any person or damage to property not covered by section 34(2).
(2) The limit on the amount of the operator’s liability shall be determined by the regulator having regard to, in particular, the spaceflight activities which the operator applicant proposes to carry out(1).
Whilst industry is encouraged by the fact that an operator licence must specify a limit on the amount of the operator’s liability limit, the limit is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, the normal position in most space faring nations is to specify a cap, with governments then taking on any additional risk. If this approach is not replicated in the United Kingdom, it may stall industry before it has a chance to properly start.
Transparency and accountability are central tenants of good regulation. Given the Government’s ambitions for the UK space sector, now would be an opportune time to develop and publish new metrics for space regulators.
One relevant example comes from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which has indicated a time frame of 9 to 18 months for processing satellite launch applications. This is well above the US Federal Aviation Authority’s target of 180 days. This is currently having a corrosive effect on the UK space sector, deterring investment and pushing businesses to launch elsewhere.
UK government should:
- Consult with industry on pragmatic but world-leading targets for regulatory decision- making;
- Introduce (and monitor) a 100-day target for decisions on satellite launch applications;
- Ensure timely publication of the regulator’s performance against best practice metrics;
with appropriate follow up action for significant or repeated poor performance.
Space is a high-tech, high-growth, highly productive sector with innovation at its core. Government is rightly ambitious for a thriving domestic space industry but needs to create the right framework for continued innovation and support firms to scale.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has run a regulatory ‘sandbox’ for many years. The programme is open to authorised firms and technology businesses that are looking to deliver innovation in the UK financial services market. The same concept could be trialled in the UK space sector – and taken even further. There is also the opportunity to apply relevant learnings on regulatory flexibilities from the response of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MRHA) to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UK government should:
- Introduce a regulatory sandbox to the space sector;
- Consider how a regulatory ‘scalebox’ might be deployed to provide additional support to British growth-stage space companies;
- Develop metrics for market performance of the domestic space sector;
- Explore learnings from the regulatory response to COVID-19 in other sectors.
There is an opportunity to further streamline and modernise regulatory processes. A more efficient, outcome-based approach to regulation should reduce time-to-market, lower costs and help build a competitive British space sector.
UK government should:
- Ensure the secondary legislation, licensing and regulatory frameworks implementing the SIA are put in place quickly to ensure the UK launch industry becomes the first to market in Europe and stays competitive;
- There should be an ongoing vehicle of implementation; the regulations need to be reviewed and checked, ensuring that they are – and remain - fit for purpose;
- Consider a form of test-demonstration licensing for initial launches;
- Streamline licensing procedures, especially for established providers;
- Automate processes including applications and reporting as much as possible;
- Encourage greater sharing of real-time data to speed up and improve decision-making, including better balancing of risk;
- Urgently bring in an EO data regulatory framework, making the inefficient current arrangements redundant;
- Reconsider the transfer of responsibilities to the CAA which may take a more prescriptive approach to regulation. Nevertheless, the TIGRR report, at proposal 15.2, highlights the importance of ensuring that the CAA has the expertise and resources to allow it to fulfil its function.
Regulation of the space sector needs dynamic leadership that prioritises safety yet nurtures space activity and encourages competition.
The Government should:
- Recruit international regulatory talent from countries with sizable space industries;
- Second or hire regulatory talent from dynamic sectors like financial services to create the right internal structures and help build a collaborative culture with industry;
- Protect, value and lead the work to enhance current space expertise.
Addressing these five points will transform space regulation, creating a more vibrant and globally competitive sector. A regulatory system which puts collaboration and market development at its core will also feed the success of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) and its investments.
What needs to be done to ensure the UK has appropriate, resilient and future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure for applications including:
- navigation systems;
- weather forecasting;
- earth observation including climate change; and
- communication (including broadband).
This overlaps on funding. To ensure future-proofed space and satellite infrastructure, appropriate levels of investment need to be injected into the sector. We can look to the European Union, specifically Galileo and Copernicus which deal with GPS and global data, to see the long-term positive effects of satellite infrastructure. Data gathered can assist in driving innovation, allowing tools and tech to be created and improved upon, for real time benefit on earth. Thus, sufficient funding and investment will help provide long-term protection for space and satellite infrastructure and will ensure the UK remains competitive with other countries.