One of Britain’s leading satellite companies is to move sensitive work on the Galileo navigation project to the Continent to ensure it can deliver on a contract after Brexit.
Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) says it will be unable to carry out a classified test on the navigation payload it supplies to Galileo after Britain has left the EU at the end of March 2019.
It is one of a number of UK companies that will be unable to work on the project after Brexit. Brussels has argued that Britain will no longer have access to the secure elements of Galileo when it leaves the union. In particular it has said that under EU law, countries outside the bloc cannot have access to Galileo’s public regulated service, an encrypted navigation system for government users.
“We have put in place an arrangement to do the test on the Continent if we need to,” said Gary Lay, SSTL’s director of navigation.
SSTL is in talks with three companies to perform the first test. All unclassified work will continue at SSTL’s facilities in Guildford.
The company is a spinout from the University of Surrey and is owned by Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, but is independently run. It has been involved in Galileo since 2003 and has designed and assembled all the navigation payloads — or brains — of Galileo’s current generation of satellites at its factory in Guildford.
Together with its German partner, OHB System, SSTL won a third contract in 2017 to build and supply a further 12 satellites but the prospect of Brexit has forced the companies to put in place mitigation measures.
The test of the payload is a small element of the total revenues of the contract and the move will not affect jobs in the UK, said Mr Lay. It will instead create a handful of new jobs in Europe.
However, work on Galileo currently accounts for, on average, half of SSTL’s annual revenues. Unless a new security arrangement is put in place between the UK and the EU, work on this contract will be SSTL’s last involvement in the pan-European project.
“It is difficult,” said Mr Lay, but he stressed that SSTL was still working on a number of missions. “The space industry is full of big, lumpy projects,” he added.
SSTL has already been locked out of bidding to provide the fourth batch of satellites for Galileo, which is currently under way.
“For us it is the contract you would want to win. It is the first of a new type of satellites,” said Mr Lay. “In terms of Galileo, the UK’s involvement and expertise will diminish [once Britain exits the EU].”
“I haven’t personally given up hope for politics to clear things up in some way,” he added.
The UK has done well out of the Galileo project, which was launched in 2003. London has funded roughly 12 per cent of the annual budget and received a work share of more than 15 per cent. The British government in August announced it would commit £92m to pay for a feasibility study of a national alternative to Galileo.
The political declaration that last week accompanied the draft withdrawal agreement from the EU mentioned the potential for consideration of “appropriate arrangements on space co-operation, including satellite navigation”.
In a boost for Britain’s satellite industry, Airbus will on Monday sign an agreement with Eutelsat, the French satellite group, to manufacture components for two new satellites at its sites in Portsmouth and Stevenage. The deal is understood to be worth more than €200m.