Plea not to stifle space industry with 'burdensome' regulatory requirements
Ministers have been urged not to "stifle" the opportunities presented by commercial space flight through over-regulation in the face of competition from other European countries.
While safety was paramount, the Government was warned "burdensome" rules would hamper the UK's growing space industry.
The call for "soft-touch regulatory oversight" was made by Tory former minister Lord Moynihan during the second reading debate of the Space Industry Bill.
The legislation is aimed at realising the Government's stated ambition of Britain becoming a "leading player in the commercial space age" and increasing its share of the global market from 6.5% today to 10% by 2030.
The Bill includes new powers to license space ports, vertically launched rockets and space planes.
It is hoped space flights will generate new business opportunities for technology and tourism in remote areas of the UK.
Several coastal aerodromes that could be converted to space ports have previously been shortlisted, including Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute; Glasgow Prestwick; Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; Newquay, Cornwall; and Llanbedr, Gwynedd.
It is envisaged space planes could fly from a British space port both to place satellites in orbit and to carry fee-paying passengers on sub-orbital flights.
Small satellite companies would also be in line to benefit from low-cost and reliable access to space.
Speaking during the debate, Lord Moynihan said: "It is essential that through the legislation before us we create the regulatory process which is internationally competitive for the billions of dollars of investment income which can boost the economy, British business, engineering and science, by making the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial space flight and competitive with any regulatory system in the world."
He added: "I would urge the minister to ensure that we do not stifle this opportunity by over regulating, as other nations such as Spain, Portugal and Norway are preparing competing legislation and launch sites."
The Conservative peer pressed for a commitment that the final legislative framework would ensure the Government recognised the reduced risks posed by the launch of micro and nano-satellites.
Lord Moynihan said each were "exceptionally valuable new areas where Britain could lead the world with soft-touch regulatory oversight, whilst always recognising that there is no room for manoeuvre when it comes to the paramount question of safety.
"To allow this industry to succeed in the long term, it is essential that licensing, insurance and range-tracking costs are appropriate to the level of risk, so the UK can build a globally competitive national space launch capability.
"A burdensome regulatory requirement would negatively impact this opportunity.
"An opportunity which will see a massive growth in satellites and an ultimate colonisation of space."
Opening the second reading debate, transport minister Lord Callanan could not resist a Star Trek reference, telling peers the bill "will boldly go where no bill has gone before".
He said: "We have in front of us opportunities of significant strategic and economic consequence.
"The UK is well equipped to pursue commercial markets in both small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight.
"Our northern latitude, abundant coastline, aviation heritage, great engineering capability, thriving space sector and business-friendly environment are all factors which make the UK an attractive destination for these services."
Lord Callanan added: "A number of operators from the UK and further afield have expressed an interest in launching from UK spaceports.
"They recognise the benefits of setting up shop here, but until now have not had a sufficient legal framework to enable safe and secure operations. This is why we are here today."
The minister said: "Today, we stand at the dawn of a new commercial space age - an age in which we can once more reach for the stars, not at vast public expense or with our being dependent on the hospitality of others, but in the best spirit of British innovation by enabling, attracting and empowering commercial markets for small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports."
Welcoming the bill, Tory former Scotland minister Lord Dunlop said: "It's clear we need to make quick progress if we are to secure early mover advantage.
"And we need to put in place a regulatory regime that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate innovations in what is a very fast moving industry."
Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally said: "Brexit is bound to cast a long shadow over our future prospects in the space industry."
Opposition spokesman Lord Rosser said Labour supported the "general thrust" of the legislation, but was critical of the lack of detail.
He raised concern over the large number of delegated powers in the bill that would allow the Government to make changes to the law.
He said: "Whilst there is clearly an argument for having flexible regulatory structures in a field of activity where there are many unknowns, there's also a need to provide for meaningful parliamentary debate and scrutiny, which cannot be achieved through secondary legislation in the way that it can through primary legislation."