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The Outer Space Act 1986

The Outer Space Act 1986 (the Act) is the legal basis for the regulation of activities in outer space carried out by organisations or individuals established in the United Kingdom or one of its Overseas Territories (OTs) or Crown Dependencies (CDs). The Act confers licensing and other powers on the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills acting through the UK Space Agency. The Act seeks to ensure compliance with the UK's obligations under international treaties and principles covering the use of outer space, including liability for damage caused by space objects, the registration of objects launched into outer space and the principles for the remote sensing of the Earth.

Background to the legislation

The UK is one of the pioneering nations in space activity. Today it has a leading reputation in a number of key space sectors both in the scientific and commercial arenas. The Outer Space Act was introduced in 1986 to manage the UK's obligations under various UN Space Treaties and Principles. In essence, these international agreements make the UK government responsible for ensuring that space activities carried out by UK individuals or organisations:

  • do not jeopardise public health or the safety of persons or property; and
  • are consistent with the international obligations of the UK.

The agreements also mean that the UK government must:

  • maintain and make available a register of space objects launched by UK organisations or individuals;
  • accept liability for 3rd party damage; and
  • seek to ensure that the activity will not impair national security.

The OSA regulation stems from these obligations.

Specifically, the OSA set out to:

  • provide regulation / licensing of UK space activities (via Secretary of State);
  • facilitate compliance with International Treaties;
  • relieve UK government and taxpayers of some liabilities arising from the activities of private organisations or individuals;
  • and primarily cover Space (in-orbit) Operations. BIS, through the UK Space Agency administers the OSA licensing activities. Since 1986, the OSA has been amended a number of times through Orders in Council to extend its powers to Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories or to amend the fees.

Obligations of licensees:

All space activities carried out by individuals or organisations established in the UK or its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are required to be licensed under the Outer Space Act (OSA).  Once a licence has been granted, licensees are obliged to:

  • permit reasonable access to documents and inspection and testing of equipment and facilities by UK Space Agency or their advisors as appropriate;
  • inform UK Space Agency of any change in the licensed activity (e.g. change of orbit, change of owner) and seek approval prior to the change being made;
  • prevent contamination of outer space and adverse changes in the environment of the Earth;
  • avoid interference in the space activities of others;
  • avoid any breach of the UK's international obligations;
  • preserve the national security of the UK;
  • insure themselves against third party liabilities (usually 60 million euro*) arising from the licensed activity - the UK Government should be named as an additional insured and insurance should be for the launch and in-orbit phases of the mission;

    • *For each license application, a risk assessment will be performed to consider the potential risks posed by the mission and a commensurate level of insurance cover will be determined. In the majority of cases, involving missions employing established launchers, satellite platforms and operational profiles, this insurance cover would be limited to 60 million euro.
  • and dispose of the licensed space object appropriately at the end of the licensed activity and inform UK Space Agency of the disposal and termination of the activity;

Example of a typical license. (PDF, 30 Kb)  

Applying for a licence under the Outer Space Act

UK nationals and companies intending to launch or procure the launch of a space object, operate a space object or carry on any other activity in outer space should make themselves familiar with the provisions of the Act and, unless acting as employee or agent of another, apply for a licence at least six months in advance of carrying on the licensable activity. Applications should be made using the licence application form on this web site. Information for applicants, including notes to help complete the form, can also be found on this site. The UK Government allows its Registries of space objects to be inspected by the public.


Reform of the Outer Space Act consultation.
Government response to the Outer Space Act consultation. (PDF, 181 Kb) 

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The UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space.

The UK's thriving space sector contributes £9.1 billion a year to the UK economy and directly employs 28,900 with an average growth rate of almost 7.5%. (The Size and Health of the UK Space Sector 2010/11, preliminary survey results.)

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