Keeping your options open

1 min read

The UK Government has confirmed plans for a British Global Navigation Satellite System are under consideration.

The UK Government has confirmed that the UK Space Agency will be leading work on options for the development of an independent British Global Navigation Satellite System.

Apparently, a taskforce of Government specialists and industry will work to develop options that will provide both civilian and encrypted signals and be compatible with the GPS system.

The move comes as the UK and the EU finds themselves in an escalating row over UK participation in the Galileo satellite programme, the EU’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

Although developed by the non-EU European Space Agency (ESA), it is funded and owned by the EU and supervised by the European Commission, and only member states will have an automatic right to the encrypted elements of the system.

While the UK will be able to use Galileo’s open signal, its armed forces and emergency services were expecting to have access to the encrypted system when it becomes fully operational.

According to the Government, if the UK is unable to collaborate on an equal basis, which means having access to security-related information, it may end its participation in the project – hence the decision to consider its own GPS system.

Many UK companies, as well as the ESA, are preparing for a ‘no deal’ scenario and the likely ending of UK participation – all of this will hang on the broader negotiations around Brexit and the kind of future relationship that is established.

The UK has a thriving space industry and certainly has the skills and capacity to develop its own programme, but any project will be extremely costly to undertake.

Reaching an agreement with the EU on continued participation would surely be more convenient and a failure to establish a privileged position could see the UK pushed into closer collaboration with the US.

But while the UK would benefit from a deal, so would the EU, because if the EU was to lose access to the UK and its companies’ expertise in this field, the costs of the project could increase substantially and delay Galileo’s roll-out well beyond 2020.

The growing row between the UK and EU over Galileo highlights the complexity associated with Brexit.

Surely, it’s not beyond the two sides to agree a security of information agreement, because if no deal is the outcome of negotiations, then we are going to be spending billions replicating Galileo so we can have the secure access to satellites we
already have!