Brexit means UK has to leave the new EU Galileo satnav system and develop its own
Britain set aside a budget of £3 billion to cover essential costs of preparing for Brexit. The “readiness fund” was announced last year - and is to cover the coming months.
In a press release today (29 August 2018) the Government proposes to spend £92 million of the Brexit readiness fund on plans for independent satellite system. An 18-month study will look at the design and development of UK programme to support the decision on whether or not to create an alternative to Galileo.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) is tasked with delivering a detailed technical assessment for a UK global positioning system for both civilian and encrypted signals - compatible with the American developed and owned “GPS”.
Meanwhile, having contributed 12% of the €10-billion Galileo project, due to be completed by 2020 – credit for this investment, gifted to the EU, remains unclear. There has been no suggestion that the sum could be included as an offset when calculating the ‘divorce settlement’.
UKSA will lead the work with support from the Ministry of Defence. Satellite navigation systems, such as GPS, are increasingly important for military purposes, civilian aircraft, shipping - and millions of people on car journeys.
A recent government study estimated that sustained disruption to satellite navigation would cost the UK economy £1 billion per day. Although the government wished to remain involved in the Galileo programme, negotiations with the European Commission remain inconclusive.
With no assurance that UK industry will be allowed to collaborate on an equal basis - and without access to the necessary security-related information to use Galileo for military functions – the UK would be forced to end its participation in the project.
The UK has been instrumental in developing Galileo technology and encryption - and it is hoped that this experience will be instrumental in developing its own alternative.
There will be a number of multi-million-pound contracts available for British space companies, leading Business Secretary, Greg Clark, to state that: “Britain is a world leader in the space industry and satellites. We are investing in an alternative option to Galileo to ensure our future security needs are met using the UK’s world-leading space sector.
“Our position on Galileo has been consistent and clear. We have highlighted the specialist expertise that we bring to the project - and the risks in time delays and cost increases that the European Commission is taking by excluding UK industry.”
Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, commented that: “The danger [that] space poses as a new front for warfare is one of my personal priorities, and it is absolutely right that we waste no time in going it alone if we need an independent satellite system to combat those emerging threats.”
Brexit is happening at the very time that Britain’s space industry is going from strength to strength. Last week (22 August) the European Space Agency’s revolutionary British-built spacecraft Aeolus was launched. Built by Airbus in Stevenage – with other British businesses providing critical elements to the mission.
At last month’s Farnborough International Airshow the Government committed £31.5m to support the development of a spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland. Commercial operations from the site will see the first rockets lift off from UK soil.
‘Horizontal launch’ has significant potential in a future UK spaceflight. Sites such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia will be boosted by an additional £2m fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.
Whilst welcoming the ongoing support for UK hi-tec sector, it is a shame that the UK investment of both cash and Intellectual Property in Galileo cannot be better leveraged. We note that there was no technical notice specifically addressing this topic in the first tranche published last week. We will pick the subject up again should this change.
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