UK shocked at being booted out of EU Galileo satellite programme

27 Mar 2018

Four Galileo satellites launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket that will form part of the EGNOS positioning network. Image: ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut

The ramifications of Brexit are being enacted earlier than expected for the UK, with it being told it is no longer a part of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme.

The UK government has been preparing itself for life outside the EU since the Brexit referendum results came through in 2016, but it did not expect to be cut off so quickly when it comes to its spacefaring activities.

According to The Register, the EU has decided that because the UK will no longer be in the EU as of next year, it will shut off its access to the Galileo satellite programme.

The aim of Galileo is to create a new global positioning network called the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS) to rival that of the US’s GPS network and Russia’s GLONASS.

As a member of the European Space Agency (ESA), the UK had contributed financially and scientifically to the €2.9bn programme, which has been running since the end of 2016, with expectations to be fully operational by 2021.

This EU decision will be a massive blow to the UK space sector, which will no longer be able to bid for any lucrative Galileo contracts in the years ahead.

UK responds

It is safe to say the response from the UK government has not been welcoming of this decision, with defence secretary Gavin Williamson saying he was “deeply disappointed” as, without access to the EGNOS network, the UK military will be at a disadvantage compared with its European neighbours.

A further statement seen by The Register from business secretary Greg Clark’s office added: “The UK has a world-leading space sector that has contributed a significant amount of specialist expertise to the Galileo programme.

“The government has been clear that we want our critical role in this important project, which will help strengthen European security, to continue as we develop our deep and special partnership with the EU.

“This could only happen with complete UK involvement in all aspects of Galileo, including the key secure elements which the UK has unique specialisms in and has helped to design and implement.”

Not the first sign of change

Despite the outcry, the UK would have likely seen such a situation occurring, with the EU in January announcing that it was to move the backup Galileo Security Monitoring Centre from the UK to Spain as a direct result of Brexit.

At the time, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “Europe’s satellite navigation system Galileo has already been delivering high-quality services for over a year now.

“With today’s decision, the commission is taking the necessary operational steps to ensure business continuity and preserve the security of the Galileo system.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic