“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.” For some, this clarion call from Boris Johnson on the day he succeeded Theresa May as Prime Minister will be dismissed as pure fantasy. Others will wince at the eye-watering cost of replicating Europe’s Galileo and Copernicus satellite programmes .... endeavours that, together, have cost £15 billion and to which Britain has contributed more than £1 billion over the past quarter of a century.
Of course, Johnson’s exhortation is nothing new. With a post-Brexit Britain to be denied access to secure elements of the Galileo satellite positioning service, it was in May of last year that the Government started looking at options for a home-grown alternative. This was followed by the announcement of a £92 million, 18-month feasibility study into its design and development. And as with Galileo, the government warned that UK-based businesses, academics and researchers would, with some exceptions, be blocked from bidding for new work on the Copernicus Earth Observation programme and have little say in how it is run.
The UK space sector is certainly buoyant. As one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy, it has trebled its turnover over the past two decades, achieved a compound annual growth rate of more than 8%, and has its sights set on securing a 10% share of a global market estimated to be worth £400 billion by 2030. The creation of a National Space Council in June of this year and its formulation of a National Space Framework will provide added momentum. Yet the question of whether a go-it-alone approach is technically feasible or economically viable remains very much up in the air.