Mon Feb 13, 2017 10:30AM
ESA's depiction of a Galileo satellite
ESA's depiction of a Galileo satellite

Leaving the European Union would put the UK at the risk of losing access to the EU-wide Galileo satellite navigation, a super-accurate global positioning system (GPS) that is partly designed and implemented by British companies.

After 15 years of cooperation between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA), Galileo went live in December, ending European countries’ dependence on existing GPS solutions provided by the US, Russia or China.

Although Britain has indicated that it would not leave the 22-member ESA after Brexit, the country could still lose its access to the system as it is only accessible in EU countries for the time being, The Independent reported on Sunday.

This is while, UK trade minister Mark Garnier has raised concerns by displaying his lack of knowledge about the satnav system.

When asked by Scottish National Party MP George Kerevan that if the government had any plans to renegotiate a deal to use Galileo after Brexit, Garnier confused it with the so-called spectrum, which lays out TV and radio frequency allocations.

“The use of spectrum is incredibly important and that spectrum is a very valuable asset for this country and we will work with Ofcom to ensure that we get our fair share,” the minister said at the House of Commons.

A pair of Galileo satellites encapsulated for launch

Kerevan told The Independent that it was “woefully negligent” of government officials not address the problem sooner.

“There is technology there reserved for member states to use for public services, and the UK could be locked out. I’m sure that a deal will be done, and the UK could pay its whack and get access, but it’s just another part of Brexit that no one’s actually thought about,” he said.

“There are targets for growing the UK space industry and it’s just woefully negligent that they haven’t thought about this in the past year,” the lawmaker added.

Norway and Switzerland, both ESA members, had to negotiate a deal before being granted access to the system.

Jean Bruston, the chair of the European Space Agency’s EU policy office, had previously warned London that would need to renegotiate its partnership in Galileo and other space projects.

This means Britain’s participation in a slew of other EU-led space projects such as the Copernicus satellite system, which monitors environmental damage, is at stake.

Chiefly designed for military purposes, the US variant of GPS, which is currently being used in Britain, deliberately provides less accurate data to commercial users.