Breaking News

Brexit putting UK-led space missions 'in jeopardy'

A panel of top experts tell peers the UK's impending exit from the EU is already affecting firms' ability to win contracts.

Ariane Flight VA233 carrying four European
The UK's involvement in the Galileo satellite programme, here launched by ESA's Ariane rocket, is under threat

The UK's ability to lead space missions in future is in jeopardy because of Brexit, leading space scientists have told peers.

Ten of the top aeronautics and astronomy experts in the country presented a bleak outlook for an industry worth £14bn when they were quizzed by the House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee.

They said that even if the UK stays in the European Space Agency (ESA), which is not an EU organisation, the loss of freedom of movement for scientists and equipment could still impact heavily on the industry.

At present the UK is a European leader in space science research and development, the scientists said.

Professor John Zarnecki, president of the Royal Astronomical Society and emeritus professor of space science at the Open University, said: "In the UK, we have been incredibly successful in exploiting these opportunities - whether it's landing on a comet, as in Rosetta... there are many examples of great success.

"We do that with 30% of our funding coming from the EU... without which we just wouldn't be able to play the leading role in these organisations. We feel that we are facing a cliff edge.

:: Spaceport would bring opportunities for Britain

An artist's impression of the Prestwick spaceport
A spaceport could be built at Prestwick after the Space Industry Bill was given Royal Assent

"If we look ahead, for the next generation of missions, we will lose our leading position."

The UK pays into the ESA budget directly and into the European Research Council (ERC) through the EU, which then both fund the development of space technology.

But the supply of funds from both are in doubt when the UK leaves the EU, the scientists said.

Professor Alan Smith, director of Space Domain, University College London, said that the EU has considerable input into the ESA and, because of Brexit, the UK's involvement in some of its programmes was "in jeopardy".

Another of the experts, RAL Space's director Dr Chris Mutlow, said among a particular class of the ESA's missions - the Explorer missions - the UK had a very good record of being chosen to take the lead.

He said: "We are seeing there are these Brexit clauses appearing and we are being squeezed out of things in practice.

"That will mean that our influence, which pays dividends for us, will disappear.

"If you look back historically across the explorer missions, the successful candidate missions have all been led out of the UK and this is something that will become increasingly difficult."



Mars sunrise
A Mars rover programme is planned by the European Space Agency

Andrew Stroomer, of Airbus, said the firm employs 3,000 people on building satellites for TV and other purposes but its work for the EU's navigational system Galileo was already being affected because of Brexit.

He said: "Our team is the incumbent for something called the Ground Control System for Galileo. In Portsmouth we are producing the software that controls the satellites in orbit.

"We are currently engaged in a tender for the next phase of this Ground Control and due to the Brexit environment, we don't believe its possible to sustain the lead from the UK for that activity."

Professor John Remedios, of the National Centre for Earth Observation, added: "We are already thinking about the next generation of sentinel satellites. At least two or three of the mission, in fact the candidate missions, have substantial if not leading UK investment.

"We are the people being asked if they are worth doing. If we are not able to do that, we are disadvantaged, both in the ERC but also in ESA, so we are very concerned about that."


No comments