Concept art of a Galileo satellite

UK considers scrapping homegrown satellite navigation system

Image credit: Pierre Carril/ESA/PA Wire

Britain’s proposed satellite navigation system, which was intended to be an alternative to Europe’s Galileo system (pictured), may be scrapped for being a waste of taxpayer funds.

The Telegraph reported over the weekend that civil servants in both the Cabinet Office and Department for Business are pushing ministers to announce the project’s cancellation.

In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May announced £92m for a feasibility study into a possible homegrown navigation system. Much of that money has already been spent, it is believed.

The project was suggested after the UK was shut out of the Galileo project in June 2018 following concerns over security clearance and the country's impending exit from the EU.

The shift saw the UK withdraw all support for Galileo and begin an 18-month engineering, design and development technical assessment into making its own system.

In March 2020, it was reported that the project had been delayed for at least six months over concerns about its scope and multi-billion-pound cost.

Early estimates suggested it would cost around £3-£4bn, but this was later revised up to £5bn. Total costs are likely to increase further.

The Telegraph reports that Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has urged ministers at the Department for Business to make a final decision on the project and has also argued that it is unaffordable.

Few details have emerged about the technical specifications of the project, although it is thought it could be made more accurate than GPS, which was updated in 2018 to provide a user’s location to within about 30cm in a best-case scenario.

Nevertheless, while UK residents and commercial interests currently have access to both GPS and Galileo, they are controlled by the US and Europe respectively who could, in theory, choose to limit functionality to other countries.

In 2018, it emerged that the EU was considering blocking the British Armed Forces from Galileo as it represented a risk to security.

Scrapping the UK system represents a blow to the UK’s fledgling space sector, as the project was one of the most significant Government-funded initiatives in the domestic industry.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told the Telegraph: “The Government has made clear its ambitions for space and is developing a new National Space Strategy to bring long-term strategic and commercial benefits for the UK.

“We are working closely with the UK Space Agency as it investigates the requirements, design specifications and costs of a UK Global Navigation Satellite System capability, within this ambition.”

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