UK.gov finally adds Galileo and Copernicus to the Brexit divorce bill

No deal still 'unlikely' insists Whitehall. But here's some grim guidance anyway

editorial only image of Whitehall. Pic Daniel Gale/Shutterstock

Nestled among the mass publication of no-deal guidance yesterday was the UK government's vision for the future of the Brit satellite and space programmes if the country falls out of the EU with no pact in March.

The guidance is, unsurprisingly, grim.

Galileo

Billed as the EU's answer to the USA's GPS system, and aimed at giving Europe some degree of autonomy from its American cousins, Galileo has been a bone of contention for some time. The UK has been heavily involved in the design, construction and operation of the constellation of satellites, which is due to become operational by the mid-2020s.

In the event of no deal being struck with the alliance of European states, the government has admitted the UK would lose access to the encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS), which will upset the military. UK businesses, academics and researchers will also get a kicking, since they will be unable to bid on any future Galileo contracts and could well find it difficult completing contracts that go beyond the March 2019 Brexit date.

On the plus side, consumers would still be able to make use of the Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay, although any UK businesses or organisations hosting ground infrastructure for the system may find it impossible to continue doing so.

While it appears to have singularly failed to secure a deal that satisfies anyone up to now, the UK government has promised £92m from its big bag of Brexit bullion to keep the UK space industry occupied in planning a Brit-only navigation system. EU-based businesses, of course, can carry on snuffling around the trough of Euros as the Galileo programme lumbers on.

Copernicus

A more surprising casualty of a no-deal Brexit, considering the UK plans to remain in the European Space Agency (ESA), is work on the Copernicus Earth monitoring programme. While the encryption worries at the heart of the Gallileo project do not apply here, the government reckons that since the UK will no longer be an EU member state it will not have any say in how the project is run.

Access is complicated, because while the information from Copernicus is free and open, UK users could still lose high-bandwidth access to the standard data from the satellites and from the contributing missions, which provide complementary data to the data beamed back to the Earth from the Copernicus Sentinels.

Even with the UK still being part of ESA, the UK government has warned that, as in the case of Galileo, UK-based businesses, academics and researchers will be blocked from bidding for any new Copernicus work. Also like Galileo, the gift that is Brexit will likely mean that contracts with delivery dates that run past the March deadline will also be at risk.

Space Surveillance and Tracking

Finally, the UK government has warned that UK participation in the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) programme, kicked off in 2014, will also be at risk. EUSST was set up to provide data for collision avoidance, fragmentation analysis when things fall apart and warnings for scheduled and unscheduled re-entry.

At the moment, the UK Space Agency hands out funding for UK organisations to contribute to the programme.

Since the country reckons it can get the data it needs from the US in the future, its involvement in the programme will come to a screeching halt after March 2019.

Because there are a number of UK satellite operators that make use of the data from EUSST, the government warns that now would be a good time to consider the impact (in all senses of the word) of the loss of access.

The guidance from the British government is a stark reminder that there is precious little time left for the negotiators to come up with a deal that does not leave the UK fiddling with toy rockets while the EU carries on regardless.

The Register asked UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, which employs 500 staff and claims 40 per cent of the global small satellite market, for its thoughts on the matter. Sensitive to the ongoing political shenanigans, a spokesperson would only say: "Surrey Satellite Technology is well known for our innovative approach and we intend to adapt to new regulations to continue trading successfully around the globe."

For the UK space industry, adaption will indeed be the name of the game as the "unlikely" no-deal scenario creeps ever closer. ®




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