Galileo row: Government split over new satellite system

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A £92million feasibility study launched in August, 2018, is looking at ways to deliver a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) capable of operating in a similar way to Galileo, at a projected cost of £5billion. Despite having spend an estimated £1.2 billion on the EU project, as well as being instrumental in developing much of the technology, the UK has effectively been excluded as a result of Brexit. understands the UK scheme is still a possibility, with a UKSA team working on it, with funding running until September.

A crunch meeting of the GNSS Task Force Group on June 23 will decide whether or not to proceed.

The Government’s proposal is likely to involve the creation of a constellation of more than 20 satellites similar to the US’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s BEIDOU as well as GALILEO.

The MOD are not on the same page as the UKSA on this programme

Source within the British space sector

However, such an option would be expensive, and unlikely to offer anything new, given four similar systems already exist.

Alternatively, the system could be modelled on India’s IRNSS, or Japan’s QZSS, involving far fewer satellites and consequently much cheaper.

A source within the British space sector told “The MOD are not on the same page as the UKSA on this programme.

“The MOD do not want the UKSA’s proposed system that is, as I understand it, very similar to GPS, as it would share the same weaknesses, (eg a vulnerability to jamming and spoofing).

“What the MOD want is a system that provides resilience by delivering a navigation capability in a different way.

“There are a number of such alternate navigation options which would be considerably cheaper than the UKSA’s solution.”

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The UKSA was tasked with delivering a system similar to GPS/Galileo, on behalf of the government with the support of MOD, as set out in the original announcement back in August 2018.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “The Government has made clear its ambitions for space and is developing a new National Space Strategy to bring long-term strategic and commercial benefits for the UK.

“We are working closely with the UK Space Agency as it investigates the requirements, design specifications and costs of a UK Global Navigation Satellite System capability, within this ambition.”

Military personnel are embedded within the programme to optimise and enhance operational capability benefits to defence while shaping requirements.

An MOD spokeman said: “The MOD is firmly committed to addressing the issues of satellite resilience.

“The UK Global Navigation Satellite System programme is being led by BEIS and the UK Space Agency with the full support of MOD.”

Boris Johnson indicated his determination to press ahead with the project shortly after replacing Theresa May as Prime Minister last year.

He said: “Let’s get going now on our own position navigation and timing satellite and earth observation systems – UK assets orbiting in space with all the long-term strategic and commercial benefits for this country.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the UK Space Conference last year about the plans for a UK system, Jan Woerner, director-general of the European Space Agency, an autonamous organisation which is separate from the European Union, told “I should be more diplomatic but I think this is not a good idea.

“If it is a strategic, tactical movement I can accept it but we should do our very best to ensure that Galileo is a European Satellite Navigation System available for the whole club and that means including the of course the UK.”

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