UK satellite staff poised to relocate abroad

The next development phase of the European Galileo satellite navigation system will be moved to either France or Germany following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

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About 100 hi-tech staff in the UK working on a ground control programme for a new EU satellite system, face being relocated to the continent because of Brexit, a Commons committee has been told.

Galileo project relocating from UK

Colin Paynter, the managing director of the UK arm of Airbus, told the Commons Committee on Exiting the European Union that the company was bidding for a €200 million contract for the ground control system – the next phase of Europe’s Galileo, 26-satellite navigation system launched by the EU to rival America’s Global Positioning System (GPS).The UK has been heavily involved in building satellites for the programme but Mr Paynter said that, if Airbus UK was successful in its ground control bid, all 100 engineers and scientists currently working on the project in Portsmouth would have to be moved to other company plants in Germany or France because the European Space Agency (ESA) has ruled that only EU member states can be lead contractors after Brexit.Already, a back-up facility for receiving military-grade data from Galileo has been moved from the UK to Spain.“We have committed, should we win that (ground control) bid, we will do all of the work in the EU 27 in our sites in France and Germany,” Mr Paynter told the select committee.“One of the conditions in that bid documentation from ESA is that all work has to be led by an EU company from March 2019. Effectively, that means that for Airbus to bid and win that work we will effectively novate all of the work from our UK factories to France and Germany from Day One.”Hilary Benn, a Labour MP who chairs the committee, asked Mr Paynter if the Brexit transition period might mitigate the situation. Mr Paynter replied, “No, because this area of Galileo – and many areas of Galileo – is classed as a security-sensitive procurement. I believe that isn’t covered in the transitional arrangements.”
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Feasibility of an independent UK satellite system

The EU has also said it would block the UK’s access to Galileo’s encrypted service after Brexit, which is required for military and security uses. In response, the UK government has said it would look at developing its own satellite navigation system, which could cost up to £5 billion.Asked if he thought such an independent system was feasible, Mr Paynter said, “I would say that, in terms of feasibility, I think after such a long and deep involvement with the Galileo programme as UK industry, we have all the skills and capabilities needed to support that programme should it come out.”
But Dr Bleddyn Bowen, a University of Leicester space specialist, told the committee that, while such a system was technically feasible, it would be very expensive and liable to overspends.“The Americans are currently building their third generation of GPS satellites, which have become notorious for cost overruns and delays because they’re encountering new technological problems as they improve the system,” he said. “Britain has just built the satellites for the Galileo system. That means Britain has to build a new satellite-navigation system – not the same one. That will mean new technological developments and innovations as well, which will cause delays.”Christian Ehler, a German MEP and member of the European Security Research and Innovation Forum, said the Galileo stand-off between the UK and EU had worrying implications for the security of the continent.Mr Ehler said in a statement that new satellite system was of great strategic importance for Europe, which currently relies on two military-run rivals, America’s GPS and Russia’s GLONASS.“Aggressions from both sides seem rather absurd. Banning the UK would jeopardise the EU’s and the UK’s security system, and raise our dependence on the rather exotic security approach of the Trump administration,” he said.For related news and features, visit our Brexit section. Find out more about our upcoming Relocate AwardsRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

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