Galileo: David Morris outlines UK’s role in project
The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) goes live in 2026, and will feature a Public Regulated Service (PRS) that can be used by government agencies, armed forces and emergency services. But the EU decided this “crucial feature” would only be accessible for bloc members, despite the UK playing an imperative part in its development. It is not the first time the UK and EU have squabbled over PRS – and, according to the Associate Director of the Atlantic Council, it almost stopped the UK signing up in the first place.
Writing for the US think tank, foreign policy expert David Wemer claimed: “Much of London’s hesitation over Galileo during its development in the Nineties and Noughties was, ironically, over the same PRS that may prevent the UK’s future participation in the system.
“PRS was first mentioned in a November 2000 European Commission report outlining the potential costs and services for the new Galileo system.
“To many EU states at the time, including the UK, the creation of a service that naturally could be used for military purposes managed by Brussels and using EU funds was a bridge too far.
“The idea that a system used by the British military for sensitive operations could be under the control of bureaucrats in Brussels was unacceptable to many in Westminster.”
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And, as Mr Wemer pointed out, it was not just the UK who were concerned.
He detailed how former US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz sent a “scathing letter” over concerns the system would use “the same radio spectrum as the US GPS military service”.
EU diplomatic sources claimed identical letters were received by several Brussels-based defence ministries in 2001.
It reportedly read: ”I am writing to convey my concerns about security ramifications for future NATO operations if the EU proceeds with Galileo satellite navigation services that would overlay spectrum of GPS military M-code signals.”
It added the US “plans a major modification to GPS to meet future military and civil requirements,” with a significant feature of the new system being a “spectral separation of the GPS military M-code signals from civil signals”.
It continued: ”The addition of any Galileo services in the same spectre will significantly complicate our ability to ensure availability of critical GPS services in time of crisis or conflict and at the same time assure that adversary forces are denied similar capabilities.
“I believe it is in the interest of NATO to preclude future Galileo signal development in spectrum to be used by the GPS M-code.”
But, according to Mr Wemer, this intervention “backfired”.
He added in 2018: “His suggestion that if European governments relied on GPS for government purposes they could be unilaterally shut off by the Americans without warning stoked the interest of French and other EU member states in PRS.
“France and other EU member states worked hard to lobby Germany, Denmark, and others to abandon their initial opposition to the PRS.
“The UK still had serious concerns about who would control a PRS and its potential conflicts with GPS, but also knew that it would be unable to singlehandedly block the Galileo system over the issue, as voting would be conducted under the qualified majority vote (QMV) rules of the Council of the European Union, one of the EU’s main decision-making bodies.
“Normally, decisions on security and defence in the EU can only be made with the unanimous consent of the member states, but Galileo had been labelled as an economic and transportation issue by the European Commission as early as the Nineties.
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“Despite the introduction of high-level security issues such as PRS, Galileo would remain subject to the EU’s economic rules. The UK had been outfoxed.”
Mr Blair’s Government joined up to Galileo in April 2002, despite the concerns raised.
According to Mr Wemer, the “UK still clung to hope that Galileo activities would remain wholly civilian” and that future decisions to use PRS for security use would “be subject to unanimous consent”.
Yet that same day a Commission statement celebrated that Galileo “will also give the European Union a military capability”.
The UK would go on to invest more than £1.2billion into the project over 15 years – with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) providing the “brains and heart” of it.
Not only did it produce 34 “full operation” payloads for the system, but it also built the satellite that initiated Galileo.
Dubbed Giove-A, this spacecraft, launched in 2005, was the pathfinder that secured for the EU the use of its all-important radio frequencies to run the system.
There would be no Galileo without them.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk Chair of the Parliamentary Space Committee David Morris previously said all of the UK’s investments ”have been left with the programme”.
He added that the loss came “along with the UK radio spectrum technology that Tony Blair gifted the programme when the USA refused to share theirs”.
The Government, seeking a replacement for Galileo, has considered alternatives to an original plan to develop its own satellite constellation.
But they have since scrapped former Prime Minister Theresa May’s £5billion proposal for a UK GNSS system and pursued OneWeb – the low-Earth orbit (LEO) broadband constellation acquired from bankruptcy with Indian company Bharti Global.
The new Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme (SBPP) will “consider newer, more innovative ideas of delivering global ‘Sat-Nav’ and secure satellite services to meet public, Government and industry needs”.
British companies previously involved in Galileo will be hoping a concrete proposal comes forward soon so they can transfer across all the knowledge and expertise built up over two decades.
But Mr Morris says more must be done to help them.
He added: “SSTL was bought by Airbus and its development heart has been moved to Toulouse.
“The UK needs to be much better at defending and retaining its space interests.
“It now owns 50 percent of OneWeb but Inmarsat, once listed on the London Stock exchange, was taken private last year and now owned by Private Equity and Canadian pension funds.
“We could apply to use Galileo and pay for the service. Both Norway and the US have applied to do so. I really don’t understand what Mrs May’s team were doing in withdrawing us.
“Maybe it was another Remainer ploy to damage us.”
Brexit: Expert discusses future of Galileo space project
OneWeb has re-started launches of its satellites, with more than 100 now in orbit in preparation for a commercial service in 2021.
Last month’s launch saw 36 satellites blasted into space on a Soyuz rocket from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia.
There are now 110 of the satellites, built by Airbus, in orbit as part of a plan for 648 satellites.
OneWeb was designed as a broadband constellation first and foremost – it will provide rural 4G, and one day 5G, Internet signals in hard-to-reach places.
The company says the latest development puts it on track to offer global Internet services to customers starting with the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas, and Canada in 2021 with global service following in 2022.
It will operate in LEO, as opposed to the medium Earth orbits used by Galileo, GPS and other navigation systems.
It will also operate at a different frequency than those traditionally used for navigation.
But while the plan will see OneWeb’s first run of satellites used for broadband, future developments could include navigation capacity.
It will be a huge moment for the British space sector, but the move will also put the UK in direct competition with Elon Musk’s Starlink, which already has 500 satellites in space.
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