UK industry bids farewell to EU’s Galileo system

Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent
@BBCAmoson Twitter

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  • Brexit

image copyrightARIANESPACE/CNES/ESAimage captionSSTL produced the Galileo satellites with consortium partner OHB-System of Bremen

The UK's final big industrial contribution to the EU's Galileo sat-nav system has been delivered.

European Space Agency officials confirmed on Thursday that Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of Guildford has shipped the last of the navigation payloads it was assembling.

These payloads are the "brains" of the spacecraft and generate the signals the Galileo network sends down to Earth.

Britain left the project on its departure from the EU.

Its "third country" status means home companies can no longer be involved in the way they once were. Galileo is regarded by the Union as a security programme and only firms in its 27 member states can take on sensitive work – such as payload integration.

"There may be small exceptions for certain components that come out of the UK which we can't get anywhere else. But this is what it is. This is the political reality of the day," Paul Verhoef, Esa's navigation director, told BBC News.

The agency acts as the technical and procurement agent for the EU's space projects.

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UK ministers are now seeking a home-grown alternative to the ultra-precise Positioning, Navigation and Timing services offered by Galileo. There's some thought that the OneWeb satellite telecommunications network, recently acquired by the government in tandem with Indian conglomerate Bharti Global, could be involved. Quite how has yet to be spelled out, however.

All those British companies previously involved in Galileo will be hoping a concrete proposal comes forward soon so that they can transfer across all the knowledge and expertise built up over two decades.

The last Galileo payloads produced by SSTL left its Guildford factory without fanfare at the end of November. They were taken to Esa's technical centre in the Netherlands where security elements not permitted to be handled by British workers were installed.

The payloads' final destination is Bremen and the factory of OHB-System. The German company joins the payloads to the rest of the spacecraft structure, or chassis, and carries out the testing prior to launch.

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