The EU operates space programmes which provide services such as navigation and weather forecasting to European citizens. These programmes include Galileo, the EU's global navigation satellite system (which is similar to GPS), Copernicus, the EU's Earth observation programme, and the EU space surveillance and tracking (EUSST) programme which aims to protect satellites from space debris. The UK has made significant contributions to the development and delivery of these programmes in recent decades, but there will be changes to future involvement at the end of the Brexit transition period.

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The UK space sector had an annual growth rate of 3.3% from 2014 to 2017 and the government has expressed ambitions to grow the sector to 10% of the global space economy by 2030. Participation in EU space programmes has provided UK based organisations with data, work contracts and funding. This POSTbrief focuses on three of the key EU space programmes that the UK has participated in.

Galileo will provide navigation, timing and positioning information for a wide range of applications, including the emergency services and aviation. The UK has received around 20% of the work contracts for the development of this system. The Government are not pursuing further involvement after the transition period because the EU will not allow them continued knowledge of the security sensitive parts of the system. Instead, the Government has proposed the development of a sovereign UK navigation system.

Copernicus is the EU’s Earth observation system which provides data and services for tackling climate change and monitoring agriculture, amongst many other things. The UK’s involvement in this programme following the transition period is uncertain at the time of writing and will depend on the outcome of negotiations. UK based academia and industry stakeholders are strongly in favour of continued UK participation.

EUSST is a programme which monitors space debris and active satellites orbiting the Earth to protect satellites from damaging collisions. It is likely that UK participation in this programme will cease following the transition period but access to services provided by the programme may be negotiated.

This POSTbrief provides a technical overview of each of Galileo, Copernicus and EUSST and the involvement of the UK in these programmes to date. The future of each of the programmes is discussed in the context of Brexit, as well as in light of the impact of emerging technologies and requirements.

Acknowledgements

POSTbriefs are responsive policy briefings from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. This POSTbrief is based on a literature review, interviews with external stakeholders and peer review. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Dr Adam White, Northern Space & Security Ltd* 
  • Dr Cyrus Larijani, National Physical Laboratory* 
  • Defra*
  • Elizabeth Seward, Airbus Defence and Space* 
  • Jacquie Conway, Airbus Defence and Space and UKspace* 
  • Professor John Remedios, National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and University of Leicester* 
  • Dr Leon Lobo, National Physical Laboratory*
  • UK Space Agency*
  • Professor Washington Ochieng, Imperial College 

 *denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing. 

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