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Brexit puts Galileo programme at risk

‘Galileo’ is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) major project to deliver improved GPS signalling to cars, boats, aircraft, hikers, etc.  More than 75 per cent of Britain’s space-related funding goes to the 22-nation ESA which is NOT part of European Union.

Indeed, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has been a major recipient of ESA contract to build the small satellites which make up the GPS system.  SSTL has supplied 22 of the GPS craft to date, and are competing with others for the next batch of orders, and that procurement is proceeding normally with a date of July 19th when bids have to be made.

Meanwhile, Britain (in its pre-Brexit mode) has repeatedly said it wanted to boost its share of space-related commerce from today’s 6.5 per cent to nearer 10 per cent.  There are also many example of ‘foreign’ companies originating from the US, Canada and elsewhere which have established UK subsidiaries in order to tap into businesses which were worth around $19 billion (in 2013) and growing much faster than the UK economy – and employing some 35,000 people.

Two beneficiaries of this space-related growth has been the Airbus-owned satellite building facilities at Portsmouth and Stevenage, and where the ‘Eurostar’ satellites are built. The Galileo satellites are built at the Airbus Portsmouth facility.

Paris-based Eutelsat has made Britain its ‘home’ for its Quantum-class of satellites, and for its Broadband for Africa project. Eutelsat maintains its HQ for its Global Government division in the UK.

Eutelsat, in a presentation last week, asked five key questions of the Brexit decision:

1: Ease of establishing companies and relocating staff
2: Monetary policy and exchange rate mechanism
3: Institutional relationships (ESA, etc).
4: EU trade & technology transfer
5: Attractiveness (of Brexit-UK) to international companies who currently see UK as their gateway to Europe

The overall question now is to what extent these projects and plans will be affected by the UK’s ‘Brexit’ vote, and in particular what damage might be done to jobs and future commitments from ESA, or the EU, to current and future work.

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