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The UK is scrapping plans to build an in independent Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). First proposed under Theresa May, the system was to be the UK’s replacement for Galileo, the EU’s GNSS, the military aspects of which the UK would have to leave post-Brexit. The government has been unwilling to accept the EU’s request that the UK would be allowed to use the system’s encrypted navigation system, the Public Regulated Service (PRS), but not to play an active role in its development.
Yet, now it seems the government has given up on its aspiration of building a fully functioning alternative. In its place, the UK government is launching a Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Programme (SBPP) which “will explore new and alternative ways that could be used to deliver vital satellite navigation services.” Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, said on Thursday when announcing the new development, that the UK would be: “considering low orbiting satellites that could deliver considerable benefits to people and businesses right across the UK, while potentially reducing our dependency on foreign satellite systems.”
The phrase “potentially reducing our dependency”, as opposed to previous declarations on sovereign and independent capacities, screams of grand ambitions hastily scaled back. Such a move raises awkward questions about the UK government’s wider space strategy. And no area invites more questions than government’s decision earlier this year to purchase a stake in the bankrupt low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite company OneWeb, which Sharma appeared to nod to in his reference to low orbit satellites.