28 Feb 2024
by Rory Daniels

Institutions of Innovation: Civil Aviation Authority

Learn about how the CAA is at the forefront of driving UK innovation through space regulation.

'Institutions of Innovation' is a series of monthly interviews with the institutions driving the UK’s innovation policy.

This is piecing together the UK's innovation landscape; setting out the key actors, what they do, where they sit and how industry can engage, including through techUK.

This month's insight focuses on space regulation. Further information on the CAA's work in this area can be found in techUK's first Emerging Space Technologies 'industry perspective' report, published on 4 March 2024.

 The CAA's responses have been provided by Colin Macleod, Head Of Space Regulation.


I see that as the UK’s aviation regulator, the CAA works to ensure strong safety standards environmental impacts assessments, security risks and enable the sector to operate as an effective and efficient regulator. What does this mean in practice for space?

As the UK's space regulator, the CAA prioritises safety, sustainability, and security across the UK space sector.

Space is quite different to the aviation sector, and the risk appetite is very different. It is more likely for a rocket to explode on the launchpad as it is a new technology and often a new vehicle.  This expectation would never be placed on aeroplanes given they are a long-established technology with historical worthiness. This means we have to approach safety with a ‘what happens when this fails’ rather than ‘if it fails.’

We work with space companies that utilise safety cases, following ALARP principles (as low as reasonably practicable).  To recognise the risks in what is a dangerous industry and take measures to increase safety.

And it doesn’t stop at safety. We undertake environmental assessments as part of spaceport and launch licences. We also have to ensure activity doesn’t cause national security concerns.  In addition, background checks on individuals pursuing space activity, and assurances around their technical and financial resources to see a mission through are undertaken.


What kind of relationship does the CAA have with its closest institutional neighbours in this area?

The Civil Aviation Authority is set out in law as the independent space regulator.  We do of course work closely with government who set policy as well as working internationally with other regulators such as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as most space missions are cross jurisdictional.

We encourage companies to speak to us early, so they understand the regulatory requirements for their missions.  The regulations in the UK are outcome focussed and non-prescriptive which accommodates for new technologies.


Beyond DfT, what are the key departments that the CAA works most closely with on space?

We work across government, including Department for Transport who lead on policy on launch and spaceports and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology who lead on orbital.  UK Space Agency also support us on security issues.  We are an independent regulator in law, and focus on safety as our primary concern, while also supporting and enabling the sector.


More broadly, how does the CAA work with external stakeholders, including organisations across the UK, to drive innovation in this area?

The space sector is overflowing with innovators. Luckily, UK space regulations fully embrace that. We do not have a prescriptive model for safety, and instead will listen to ideas and work to make innovation safe rather than stand in the way as a blocker.

To enable this, we engage with space companies and potential licensees as early as possible. If space companies approach us early and discuss their ideas, we can work together to make sure safety, security and sustainability are already at the core of what you are doing.

We set up the Space Launch and Orbital Group (SPLOG) which meets three times a year to discuss regulatory issues with the sector. These sessions enable us to work with industry to improve safety and reduce the regulatory burden where possible.


How can techUK’s 1000+ industry members best engage with the CAA on space?

The main rule is that if you want to get into space you need to speak to us as soon as your mission starts to fall into place. Our website offers guidance on the licence process.

Once there you can sign up for skywise alerts – the system we already use to keep the aviation sector updated. We also run regular ‘SPLOG’ (Space Launch and Orbit Group) meetings that are two-way conversations between industry and regulator and allow questions, discussions, and feedback from stakeholders new and old. 

Also follow us on social media   we’re on LinkedIn and on X (@UK_CAA)


Can you name any examples of how the CAA has worked with techUK in the past? If so, what have you enjoyed, valued, or learned during the process?

techUK are a very useful gateway into the wider tech sector. They have helped us speak to the space sector about the various ways we’re improving licensing and the information available to industry. Working with industry bodies and trade associations gives us avenues into conversations across the sector that help us improve regulations and support the UK’s space sector for the future.


What is the CAA’s long-term vision for the UK’s space and innovation landscape? Are there any areas in which working with industry will be particularly crucial?

Working closely with industry is always crucial especially to get ahead of the innovations coming down the track. We know that there are hundreds of ideas bubbling away under the surface of the space sector and ultimately, we want to see as many of them come to fruition as possible. 

That means we want to hear people’s ideas well before they’re sitting on a launch pad. We want to have regulations in place, build our expertise, and make sure we’re enablers for the future. While our focus is rightly safety, by working together with innovators that can sit hand in hand with success.


Finally, what is the CAA’s main priority in this area over the next 12 months?

Space will be hot on the agenda for 2024, with the potential of the UK’s first vertical launch to take place from SaxaVord spaceport in Shetland, following the licence that we granted in December.

We have launch companies already in the licence process and we expect many more UK satellites to need licensing. Plus, we’ve got to monitor all the satellites already up there and put in regular inspections of a brand-new spaceport.

You can find out more about the CAA's work in space regulation by visiting their website here.

Want to find out more about the CAA and their role in UK space regulation?

Read techUK's first Emerging Space Technologies 'industry perspective' report.

This includes a chapter on Regulation and explores the opportunities that will be created by the growing commercialisation of space.

Click below to view our other Supercharging Innovation series:

techUK – Unleashing UK Tech and Innovation 


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Rory Daniels

Rory Daniels

Programme Manager, Emerging Technologies, techUK

Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.

During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.

Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.

Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.

[email protected]

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