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14 September 2021, 17:19

Britain wavers on building its own 'sat nav' system

Artist's view of a Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellite.
Artist's view of a Galileo Full Operational Capability (FOC) satellite.

LONDON, 14 September (BelTA - China Daily) - The United Kingdom's efforts to build a sovereign satellite navigation system to rival those used by the United States and the European Union have been put on hold.

More than 60 million pounds ($83 million) has already been spent on post-Brexit proposals for a global satellite navigation service to replace the US-controlled GPS and the EU's Galileo system, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

A government-commissioned study in 2017 said the UK needs a back up to GPS, and warned that any disruption to it could cost the economy one billion pounds a day.

Government ministers are hesitant to commit to building a full space-based "positioning, navigation and timing" system that would reportedly cost up to 5 billion pounds, said the publication.

The project was "reset" last year and the UK Space Agency was instructed to explore more innovative or cheaper options. It was expected to announce alternative plans in March, but an announcement is now not expected until November.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson made the system a priority on his first day in the job in 2019 after the project was first ordered by his predecessor Theresa May following the Brexit vote in 2016.

Space industry sources told the Telegraph that industry work assessing the possibility of an independent system was now being tapered.

The government said work on the project would not be formally ended, but only slowed.

"Securing resilient services for the UK's critical national infrastructure is a key priority," a spokesperson was quoted as saying.

"We are exploring how to develop and secure these critical technologies from space and on land, which will enhance our security and prosperity for decades to come."

Commenting on the government position, an industry source told the paper: "They're not giving any indication what's happening past November, and industry has been telling them we need to know for planning purposes if you're going to do anything more. They've been very quiet. It's very vague and not positive at all."

Appearing before the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee during a discussion on space last week, Nick Shave, chairman of trade association UK Space, told politicians that the industry was confident it had the capability to build the system.

But he added that, without government backing, he did not expect a solution soon. "I don't think we will have an answer," he said. "Government needs to come to a decision."

Shave also told the committee that there needs to be a space minister in Cabinet to prevent the UK falling behind its rivals.

He said there should be "a minister for space as a single role", and that the government needed to act more like Japan and create a specific role to focus on the subject.

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