The impending separation of the United Kingdom from the European Union (or “Brexit”) will have a seismic effect upon British society and commerce, and the growing British space sector will be no exception. A new report by The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS), What Brexit Means for UK Space Leadership, explores the decisions the UK space sector will face and the possible ramifications of those decisions.
“The world is watching as the UK maneuvers its way through Brexit,” said Gina Galasso, managing director of Vaeros Ltd., Aerospace’s UK subsidiary and co-author of the CSPS report. “The decisions the UK faces in its space sector will not just affect where and how much it spends on space, but also the possible role the UK could play in the global space enterprise, post-Brexit.”
British involvement in the Galileo global navigation satellite system has been one of the most fraught space-related challenges of Brexit. Over the course of the summer of 2018, the UK and EU engaged in a very public negotiation over the possible roles the UK could retain in the deployment of Galileo, ending in an announcement from UK Prime Minister Theresa May in September that the UK would pursue its own sovereign satellite system through the UK Space Agency. Such a system would need to support approximately 30 satellites — a tremendous financial commitment for an agency with total expenditures of just $500 million over FY17-18. Among other topics, the authors of What Brexit Means for UK Space Leadership outline alternative approaches to filling the gap left by Galileo in the UK space program, pointing to more cost-effective and strategic alternatives.
Central to the question of the UK space sector’s future is the role of the UK Space Agency itself. Currently functioning as an enabler within the space industry — working on space projects in cooperation with industry and academia — the UK Space Agency lacks the staffing and resources it would need to build and administer a national space program. In particular, the UK Space Agency would need to invest heavily in building technical expertise in its ranks in order to create a national space program.
“Brexit will almost certainly create an inflection point for the UK space sector,” said Jamie Morin, executive director of CSPS. “In the aftermath of the referendum, the British government has reviewed its activities in space, and the process has moved entities such as the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence to coordinate more tightly than they have in the past. Regardless of Brexit’s outcome, the UK can take considered, deliberate steps that benefit its space sector, including expanding the capacity of its space agency.”
To learn more, download the CSPS report at https://aerospace.org/paper/what-brexit-means-uk-space-leadership.