The UK’s pending departure from the European Union could mean that the country loses access to the EU’s global positioning system (GPS) system, Galileo – which it helped to design and implement.
Following a 15-year collaborative project between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA), the new satellite navigation system went live at the end of 2016 as an effort to end the region’s reliance on existing GPS services owned by the U.S., China, and Russia.
While Britain has suggested that it will not be leaving the 22-member ESA after Brexit, it could still lose its access to the navigation system as it is currently only available to countries inside the EU.
ESA members Norway and Switzerland both had to negotiate third-party access to Galileo, in 2009 and 2014, respectively. It is expected that following Brexit, the UK will also need to hold separate negotiations to re-obtain partnership to Galileo and other ESA-led space projects – including the Copernicus environmental damage monitoring system, and Horizon 2020, which aims to boost scientific research.
Speaking to The Independent, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP George Kerevan said: ‘There is technology there reserved for member states to use for public services, and the UK could be locked out. I’m sure that a deal will be done, and the UK could pay its whack and get access, but it’s just another part of Brexit that no one’s actually thought about.
‘There are targets for growing the UK space industry and it’s just woefully negligent that they haven’t thought about this in the past year,’ he continued.
Many UK businesses who have collaborated on Galileo and hold contracts worth tens of millions of pounds to provide hardware to the project would be particularly hard hit. ‘If nothing changes [and Brexit goes ahead], we would have to stop these contracts,’ warned Jean Bruston, head of ESA’s EU policy office.
According to sources at the Department of International Trade, negotiations on Galileo could only begin after Article 50 has been triggered.