Government explores UK-built satnav as Brexit threatens role in European project

Written by Sam Trendall on 4 May 2018 in News
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Taskforce formed to ‘quickly develop’ alternative options after EC warns that the UK may be frozen out of secure elements of Galileo project

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Archive/PA Images

The government is looking at options for a UK-developed satellite-navigation system, in the event that the Brexit process sees the country frozen out of secure parts of the European Galileo network.

Run by the European Space Agency, the multibillion-euro Galileo project will ultimately provide a Europe-based alternative to the US government-owned Global Positioning System, which is the de facto standard for satnav products and services. Galileo currently has a total of 22 satellites in orbit, with the final eight scheduled to launch this year.

Once complete, it will provide both public and encrypted signals, for use by consumers, businesses, and public-services providers.

UK authorities and companies have played an active role in the Galileo project so far. However, in light of the nation’s imminent departure from the EU, they now face a threat from the European Commission that they will be excluded from the secure parts of the project.

This means that, while the UK will retain access to Galileo’s open signal, the country’s armed forces could be shut out of the encrypted signal. 


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The government said: “Without the assurance that UK industry can collaborate on an equal basis and without continued access to the necessary security-related information, the UK could be obliged to end its participation in the project.”

The government still wants the UK to remain a full participant in the programme, and claimed that “business secretary Greg Clark wrote to the commission last month expressing concern about its intention to exclude the UK from the secure elements of Galileo”.

A recent government report found that “a failure of satellite-navigation service could cost the UK economy £1bn a day”, and that the country’s defence, national infrastructure, and emergency services are increasingly reliant on satnav technology.

The UK Space Agency has thus been asked to lead a newly assembled taskforce of government and industry experts dedicated to examining the options for a UK-led global navigation satellite system. The taskforce will “work quickly to develop options that will provide both civilian and encrypted signals and be compatible with the GPS system”, according to the government.

Dr Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “As the government has made clear, we should begin work now on options for a national alternative to Galileo to guarantee our satellite positioning, navigation, and timing needs are met in the future. The UK Space Agency is well placed to lead this work, and will use a wide range of expertise from across the space, engineering, and security sectors.”

Greg Clark added: “We have made our position clear to the European Commission and highlighted the importance of the UK to the Galileo programme. It is now right that we explore alternative options to ensure our security needs are met as we continue to take full advantage of the opportunities that exist in the global space sector, through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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