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August 9, 2019

UK space industry braces for a no-deal Brexit

By Ellen Daniel

As the Brexit deadline moves ever closer, industries have now turned their attention to preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. The UK space industry is no exception.

Although UK science minister Chris Skidmore recently spoke of his wishes for a British astronaut to one day walk on the moon, the UK’s space programmes may face more immediate hurdles if the UK’s future participation in EU space projects is impacted by a no-deal Brexit.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, along with the UK Space Agency, has published guidance on how the UK’s participation in EU space programmes will be affected if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The UK currently participates in a number of satellite and space programmes under the EU, namely Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) programmes, the Copernicus Earth Observation space programme, and the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking programme. However, until arrangements are made, the UK’s participation in such programmes looks likely to change.

It is worth noting that the UK’s membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) is not affected by a no-deal Brexit as the ESA is not an EU organisation.

Here’s how the UK space industry could be affected by a no-deal Brexit.


Galileo is the EU’s global navigation satellite system, which provides signal for satellite navigation systems across the EU. UK organisations will still to be able to use the ‘open’ signal from the satellite “to develop products and services for consumers”, meaning satellite navigation users should not notice a difference after a no-deal Brexit. This also applies to EGNOS.

However, while the UK currently provides technical research and funding for the programme, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK businesses and researchers will no longer participate in future development of the programme.

In addition, the UK will no longer be able to use Galileo for “defence or critical national infrastructure”.


Copernicus is the EU’s Earth observation programme. Its satellites provide continuous data on “land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency management, and security”, which is used by a wide range of organisations within the UK space industry and beyond.

According to the announcement, the data produced by the Copernicus satellites and the “land, marine, climate change and atmosphere” services will still be available in the UK, meaning that researchers and organisations using data will be unaffected by a no-deal Brexit.

As the UK will still be a member of ESA, UK organisations will continue to be able to bid for contracts tendered through the ECMWF and Mercator Ocean (as the UK will still be a member of these organisations). However, they will not be able to bid for contracts tendered through the EU.

Some UK users will also lose high-bandwidth access to the data from Copernicus satellites.

Space surveillance and tracking

The EU’s Space Surveillance and Tracking programme detects space debris that may be hazardous if they collide with spacecraft or satellites.

The UK will no longer participate in the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking programme if there’s a no-deal Brexit, with UK organisations no longer allowed to be involved in the future development of the programme.

Read more: UK plans Moon communications system with NASA-UK Space Agency signing