On June 23, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, a contentious action that the British country and other international powers have labeled the ‘Brexit,’ or British Exit. Though the UK’s official exit won’t actually be finalized for approximately two years, the decision has raised a number of questions pertaining to the consequence this exit will have on the United Kingdom and on the international community as a whole.
Specific to this article: How will this influence Europe’s space programs and the United Kingdom’s role in them?
The British government and its industrial space sector have historically been ambitious in their objectives. The UK intends to expand its international space commerce from 6.5% to 10% in by 2023, and has thus far taken actions to secure this goal, elevating its space sector to a worth of $19 billion with an employment base of 35,000 people.
More than 75% of the United Kingdom’s space funding is sent to the European Space Agency (ESA), which is not affiliated with the European Union. Director-General Johann-Dietrich Werner of the ESA has already assured the public that the Brexit should have little or no impact with the UK’s commitment to its partnership with the ESA.
Unfortunately, European space programs appear to conflict with certain European policies in regards to the Galileo satellites. Survey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), a British company, is a major contractor for the payload electronics of these satellites. The European Commission owns Galileo’s positioning, navigation and timing network, and is managing for new sets of Galileo satellites to be built through the ESA. The Galileo program itself has members like Norway who joined it through signing a security treaty with the European Union. Because of this, there is much ambiguity surrounding whether or not this same treaty now permits the United Kingdom, a non-EU member, from playing a dominant role -like SSTL – in the program.
The United States, France, Canada, Germany, and Italy house companies with British divisions that provide them access to ESA and EU space project funding; they make their investment projections based on the UK’s share in eminent ESA budgets. Now the UK is in a position where it may potentially need to sever its participation in the Galileo program, which would jeopardize the profitability of the SSTL and thereby jeopardize the global economy.
Did the 17.5 million British citizens who voted in favor of Brexit foresee that detaching themselves from the European Union could mean detaching the nation from a once unprecedented commitment to space?