Brexit: EU relocates Galileo satellite system installation from UK to Spain

New Brexit blow for UK's space industry

Jon Stone
Thursday 18 January 2018 13:54 GMT
A scientist works on the Galileo satellite system
A scientist works on the Galileo satellite system

A part of the infrastructure for the Galileo satellite system will be relocated from the Britain to Spain because of the UK’s departure from the EU, the European Commission has announced.

The back-up security monitoring centre for Galileo, Europe’s advanced version of GPS, was originally awarded to London in 2010 after a competitive process.

The centre, which was due to become fully operational later this year, controls access to the satellite system and provides around-the-clock monitoring of it when the main security centre, near Paris, is offline.

“Today the Committee of the member states’ representatives met and we can confirm that the committee voted in favour, by a large majority of our commission proposal to relocate the centre to Spain,” a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters in Brussels.

“This is what we can say today. As is the case with all committee procedures the college [of commissioners] will now formally adopt this decision in its meeting next Wednesday.”

He confirmed that the system was being moved “as consequence of the UK withdrawal from the EU”.

The relocation is the latest blow to Britain’s space industry from Brexit. In November UK aerospace firms and the Royal Aeronautical Society said they were being excluded from contracts because of the decision to leave the EU, with contracts for Galileo particularly affected.

An Ariane rocket carrying four European Galileo navigation satellites launches November 15, 2016 in Kourou, French Guiana (Getty Images)

The relocated back-up security centre is expected to employ as many as 30 people when it becomes fully operational in Madrid – with additional benefits for prestige and local expertise.

Galileo’s space constellation currently consists of 18 satellites, with full services due to come online in 2020. The system, which is designed to be more accurate than GPS, was developed in part so that Europe would not have to rely on a system controlled by the US military for navigation.

The US also reserves the most accurate data from GPS for its armed forces, and there are concerns that it could be shut off for other users during wartime.

GPS also has a feature called “selective availability” that can be used to deliberately introduce errors into positioning, with the stated purpose of preventing enemy forces from using the system to guide weapons. The system is currently turned off.

In November the EU announced that the European Medicines Agency and the European Finance Authority would be moving from London to Amsterdam and Paris respectively because of Brexit, taking hundreds of high-paying jobs and sectoral benefits with them.

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