In space, no one can hear you Brexit!

2 min read

An acerbic attack on Brexit’s impact on the UK’s space industry raises both support and scorn.

I’d sworn off covering Brexit, mention it and you’ll end up pulling down criticism or support on your head in equal measure.

But last week Will Marshal, one of the UK’s most successful space entrepreneurs, called the UK’s decision to pull out of the EU an act of “galactic scale stupidity.”

Dr Marshall’s Planet company operates one of the world’s largest satellite imaging networks, with 150 spacecraft able to fully picture Earth on a daily basis.

He said that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would do immense harm to Britain’s space industry.

The UK will be “lost in space”, he suggested in a blog.

No sooner did his comments hit the wires, than comments – both for and against - poured in. The fact that he operates Planet out of California and Germany drew the ire of many, as did his comment that post Brexit, no CEO would seriously want to locate a space company in the UK.

“Why put your European base outside the single market of the largest trading block in the world? Or likely without access to the main government programmes? Company after company will avoid it,” Marshall said.

Dr Marshall went on to attack the UK government’s actions on Galileo, the EU version of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and poured scorn on the British government’s decision to build its own sat-nav system instead. “Pie in the sky”, according to the good Doctor.

While there are certainly worries that the UK is choosing to pull itself out of a space ecosystem. in which it has become embedded and on which so much of its capability depends, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) said that the pessimism expressed by Marshall was not shared by many in the industry.

In fact, a recent “Size and Health” survey of British space businesses has found that 73% of organisations expected income to grow over the next three years and 48% of those expected that growth to be more than 10% higher than in the previous three years.

A spokesman from the agency said that the UK was committed to close international partnerships on space and science programmes, and that it would remain a leading member of the European Space Agency (Esa).

However, while Esa is separate from the EU, there are concerns that tensions could grow as the agency becomes more aligned with the EU and those tensions may be heightened once the UK leaves the EU.

Should the UK’s voice in Esa diminish, then there has to be real concerns for the UK’s buoyant and remarkably successful space industry and what that could mean for UK science.