Brexit in spaaaace! At T-1 year and counting: UK politicos ponder impact

'Entrepreneurs!' 'Elon Musk!' 'Smartphones!' chirps Lord as UK space stares into abyss

Countries are pouncing on space work originally destined for the UK like a “feeding frenzy of hyenas” according to a selection of representatives from the UK industry and education sectors.

The British government’s EU Internal Market Sub-Committee took evidence yesterday on the implications of Britain's exit from the European Union for the UK’s space industry.

Businesses in the trade (in the form of Airbus and Surrey Satellite) painted a gloomy picture, seeing themselves very much at “the sharp end” of Brexit with work on projects such as the Galileo constellation of navigation satellites already starting to bleed out of the UK.

In January, the European Commission announced the data centres running the Galileo system would be relocated from the UK to Spain because of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Richard Peckham, chair of trade association UKSpace, described competing countries as being “like hyenas, picking at the UK workshare, like a feeding frenzy” as competing countries sought to take on work originally destined for the UK.

Lucy Berthoud of the Space Universities Network, also warned of “Brexodus”, referring to the potential loss of research staff and students.

It was also warned of an approaching "cliff edge" in two to three years' time, as existing EU and European Space Agency (ESA) funding arrangements come to an end.

While the EU doesn't directly control where ESA work goes, because 20 of the members of ESA are also EU members, the EU has some de facto influence.

Committee member Lord Mawson pointed out that entrepreneurs such as “Elon Musk and others” did not have to depend on government money to fund space ventures.

However, it was pointed out to Lord Mawson that SpaceX had received substantial funding from the US government and that much of the commercial space industry is spun out of research funded by governmental bodies.

Lord Mawson later made the point, while waving his phone, that “the right drivers and the right mindset, and the right people in the right room” was the key to “very small things becoming quite big things”.

Academics and industry said the impact could be mitigated, if the government finds a way to replace lost funding, and also provide clarity on how the movement of people and customs regulations will change in a post-Brexit world.

Upon closing, Lord Whitty wished the witnesses “the very best of luck for your sector,” before ominously adding, “You may need a bit of luck as well as a bit of help.” ®

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