The UK Space Industry is already seeing negative effects from Brexit, a group of industry experts has warned.
Speaking to a House of Lords subcommittee on Thursday, several experts from the UK space industry argued that the field was already being harmed by Brexit, particularly in relation to Galileo, a satellite navigation programme.
“We are already suffering very badly in the Galileo programme,” warned Philip Davies, chair of the Space Specialist Group at the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Galileo and the UK space industry in light of Brexit
Currently in development by the EU through the European Space Agency (ESA), Galileo is designed provide new global search and rescue capabilities. The UK, which a key player internationally in satellite technology, has played a vital role in Galileo, but in March the European Commission said that it would likely exclude the UK from parts of the project following Brexit.
“I would say we are right now seeing some very immediate consequences on Galileo, of our role in Galileo, where we are the incumbent,” added Andrew Stroomer, business development director of space at Airbus Defence and Space.
“Our team in Portsmouth is the incumbent for something called the ground control system for Galileo. Galileo is based on constellation and navigation satellites, and we are in Portsmouth producing the ground software which is controlling where all these satellites are in orbit and making sure they don’t bump into each other.
“We are currently engaged in a tender for the next phase of this ground control segment competition and due to the Brexit environment, the conditions of tender, the security constraints, we don’t believe it’s possible to sustain the lead from the UK for that activity.
“So that’s something which is an immediate consequence right now.”
A “cliff edge” the UK space industry post Brexit
Experts also warned of further risks to the industry following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Professor John Zarnecki, President of the Royal Astronomical Society and Emeritus Professor of Space Science at The Open University, argued that the EU’s role in space programmes to-date had been vital to the development of the UK space industry.
“In the UK by any metric it’s clear that we’ve been incredibly successful in exploiting these opportunities, whether its landing on a comet, as with Rosetta, [or] observing the cosmic microwave background, there are many, many examples of great success with major UK involvement,” he said.
“But on average we do that with 30% of our funding coming from the EU, without which we just would not be able to play leading roles in these missions.
“And we feel that we’re facing a cliff edge in two or three years’ time when the existing funding comes to an end. The future does not look bright in that context.”