Spaceflight from the UK

Information on how we are growing the UK’s satellite launch capability and spaceflight industry.

What is LaunchUK?

LaunchUK is the UK’s commercial spaceflight programme.

LaunchUK branding poster

Spaceflight has come to the UK

The government’s vision is for the UK to be at the global forefront of small satellite launch and emerging space transportation markets – providing world-leading capability, bringing new markets to the UK and inspiring the next generation of British space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

First UK launch

On 9 January 2023, the UK made history by conducting the first ever orbital launch attempt from UK soil through Virgin Orbit at Spaceport Cornwall - clearly demonstrating the UK’s launch capability.

Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing new growth through investment and jobs into Cornwall and other communities, as well as inspiring a new generation of space professionals.

History of enabling launches

To enable launches from the UK, we have put in place the Space Industry Act 2018, a flexible high-level regulatory framework.

Following the completion of the public consultation, the government response and Parliamentary debates, the Space Industry Regulations 2021, Space Industry (Appeals) Regulations 2021, the Spaceflight Activities (Investigation of Spaceflight Accidents) Regulations 2021 and the Contracting Out (Functions in Relation to Space) Order 2021 were laid before Parliament on the 8 July 2021 and came into force on 29 July 2021. This package of statutory instruments paved the way for the first launches from the UK, enabling the licensing of launch, return, orbital, spaceport and range control activities.

From the South of England to the North of Scotland, the UK offers a range of potential launch sites capable of hosting a variety of different spaceflight activity including both horizontal and vertical launch.

We also have strong international relationships, giving us access to global markets, financing and supply chains around the world. For example, the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) signed in June 2020 has paved the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology, enabling access to revenues and customers previously unavailable.

All this builds upon the UK’s well-established international relationships and reputation for regulatory standards, helping further cement the UK as Europe’s most attractive destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

The UK Space Agency has funded a range of industry-led projects to build new UK launch capabilities including:

  • £31.5m to establish launch services in Scotland, supporting Orbex to launch from Sutherland, Lockheed Martin to launch from the Shetland Islands, and to build an innovative spacecraft in Reading
  • £11.3m of central government grant funding to support launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall
  • £1.3m to help other local airports to develop business plans to offer space launch services

Separately, we are also investing in related facilities and technology, including £99 million for a new National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell.

How are we doing this?

The government’s Spaceflight Programme brings together the UK Space Agency, Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Civil Aviation Authority, with support from the Health & Safety Executive.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was appointed to undertake all Space Industry Act 2018 regulatory functions in addition to regulating orbital activities under the Outer Space Act 1986.

In July 2021, the Space Industry Regulations came into force, which formally enabled the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to receive licence applications for spaceflight activities. Our outcome-focused regulatory framework is the most modern space legislation in the world, with a focus on safety and the flexibility to support the pace of innovation.

The CAA website has more information on applying for a licence for orbital operations, launch, return, spaceport and range control activities, including what to expect from the licensing process and the obligations of licensees.

If you are interested in carrying out spaceflight activity or associated activity under the Space Industry Act 2018 or the Outer Space Act 1986, and would like to meet the Civil Aviation Authority to discuss your plans or apply for a licence, please get in touch at

The US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement allows US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export launch technology.

We have used our strong global partnerships to work with international partners to secure the agreements we need to enable UK launch including with Ireland, Iceland, Portugal, the Faroe Islands and Norway to secure their support for UK launch activities.

Growing the market

So far, the government has invested over £40 million to grow the UK’s spaceflight capabilities and is funding a range of industry-led projects, including supporting vertical launches from a spaceport in Scotland and horizontal launches from Spaceport Cornwall.

Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand polar satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets. There are also a number of aerodromes around the UK, each with their own unique geography and local infrastructure, giving the UK the capability to host a variety of different types of spaceflight activity including both horizontal and vertical launch.

The government will work with any location interested in developing a commercial spaceport, and there are a number of launch sites the length of the country in varying states of development, from Newquay in Cornwall to Unst in the Shetland Isles.

Wherever you are based in the UK, you are only ever a few hours from industrial centres, world-class service providers, cultural centres and global logistic hubs.

Watch a UK spaceports animation

The UK Space Agency and its partners across the UK government are committed to ensuring space investments build capability, advance scientific knowledge and generate strong economic return. There are a wide range of opportunities and organisations available to support space-related companies in the UK, from incentives such as reduced taxes, simpler planning rules and financial benefits, to innovation funding and research grants.

The government sees the importance of investing resources and funding in world-class research and development (R&D) to support pioneering technology and services.

The government is committed to growing modern industrial capability across the UK, and is investing in new space facilities, technology and centres of excellence to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the ‘new commercial space age’.

For any spaceflight-related queries, contact us at

Working with international partners

We are working with international partners to develop strong global relationships, ensuring we have access to markets, financing and supply chains all around the world. Furthermore, we are establishing the safeguards, protections and international agreements needed to facilitate a range of commercial spaceflight activities.

The signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) on 16 June 2020 paved the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology, enabling the UK to access revenues and customers previously unavailable, while abiding by both countries’ commitments to non-proliferation.

The government will realise its obligations under the TSA principally through the Space Industry Regulations (2021), and through conditions on licences issued for spaceflight activities under the Space Industry Act 2018.

Spaceflight legislation and guidance

Find more information on spaceflight legislation and guidance.

For a collection of further information, documents and past announcements, visit the commercial spaceflight programme information page.

Published 1 October 2020
Last updated 16 January 2023 + show all updates
  1. Updated following first UK launch in January 2023.

  2. Including a link to 'Brochure: UK Spaceflight Programme'

  3. Edits made to remove regulation and licencing information.

  4. Updated LaunchUK brochure

  5. First published.