Space News - July 20, 2022

Is the U.K.’s regulatory push at odds with the rest of its space strategy?

The United Kingdom has its sights set on meeting emerging demands in its quest to become a major global space power. Few on the horizon are more pressing than the need to improve orbital sustainability.

Alongside investments in startups building businesses to clean up orbital debris, the British government is seeking to shape regulations to ingrain these companies in the future space ecosystem.

The government is also on a mission to incentivize sustainable space practices more broadly.

U.K. Science Minister George Freeman launched a raft of sustainability measures in June that include plans to make licenses, insurance and other costs cheaper for environmentally conscious space players. Less sustainable space businesses could face a comparatively harsher business climate.

Called the Plan for Space Sustainability, it joins the U.K.’s wider strategy for a bigger slice of the global space industry to bolster its post-Brexit economy.

On the surface, adding more bureaucracy appears to be a drag on other growth pillars set out in the National Space Strategy the country published in September. Namely, plans to develop a domestic launch capability and foster a business-friendly environment to attract more early-stage companies.

However, it comes as the low Earth orbit (LEO) population is estimated to grow from about 4,000 satellites to 100,000 by 2030, according to a June report British satellite operator Inmarsat published in partnership with Astro Analytica. The estimate did not include startup E-Space’s proposed 300,000-satellite constellation due to a lack of publicly available information about those plans.

Either way, such dramatic growth could exponentially increase the risk of debris-causing collisions that threaten the operational viability of Earth orbit.

Much depends on the shape U.K. space sustainability regulations take and if and how they are adopted outside the United Kingdom.

“The problem with space debris is that it needs to be a global solution,” said Armand Musey, founder of New York-based advisory firm Summit Ridge Group.