UK Space Sector After Brexit

As everyone in Europe will be aware, and probably others around the world, after four years of talking an eleventh hour trade agreement was reached between the UK and Europe on the 24th December 2020 to get Brexit done … or so it was portrayed! Despite the agreement there are still lots of areas of uncertainty, and for our first blog of 2021 we’re going to try and summarise the key points for the UK Space Sector.

Looking at some of the more straightforward aspects first:

  • European Space Agency – yes, we know this isn’t, and never was, an EU body and so the agreement doesn’t have any impact. However, many people aren’t clear so for clarity, the UK remains part of the European Space Agency and in theory very little has changed.
  • Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) – The UK no long participates in either of these EU satellite navigation systems and UK companies cannot use, nor can bid, for any future contracts in relation to them.
  • EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) – The UK will continue to be able to use EU Space Surveillance and Tracking services, but they are no longer eligible to participate in the programme.

Moving onto Copernicus, what appeared to positive news on the 24th, was somewhat muddied a few days later.

The deal includes an agreement in principle for the UK to continue to be part of the Copernicus programme as a third country for the period 2021 – 2027. However, five days later the UK Government issued a qualification to this agreement in relation to the finalisation of the EU Space Regulations and its potential impact on third countries. Essentially, the UK is reserving the right to reconsider its participation in Copernicus if they don’t feel they are getting fair value for money for their contribution – this is expected to be resolved during Q1 of 2021.

If the UK confirms its participation in Copernicus, this means:

  • UK organisations and researchers will be able to bid for future Copernicus contracts tendered through the EU.
  • UK users will continue to have access to most Copernicus services and Contributing Missions datasets, although some security sensitive data may be withheld.

However, there remains uncertainty over Copernicus contracts issued by European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and Mercator Ocean. Whilst the UK is a member of these bodies, it won’t be until the EU has worked through its arrangements with them that it will be clear whether UK organisations and researchers will be able to bid for future Copernicus contracts tender through them.

To end on a positive note for Copernicus, there are a number of aspects that will continue irrespective of the UK Government decision:

  • Free and open data policy of Copernicus means UK users will retain access to the Sentinel satellite data and associated services.
  • Participation in the Copernicus Space Component (CSC-4), allowing UK organisations to bid for CSC-4 contracts tendered through ESA.
  • Participation in the Sentinel 6/Jason Continuity of Service (Jason-CS) mission.

Obviously, for the upstream part of the industry, having the deal means zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods – in principle! There are still issues around rules of origin and a number of new processes to navigate to import or export the goods firms need to build satellites. However, this is better than if we had faced a no-deal future.

Unusually for such Free Trade Agreements, there are also some interesting points about digital trade and data, which can only be positive for the downstream part of the industry, like Pixalytics. The key points are:

  • UK and EU have committed to co-operating on digital trade issues.
  • Electronic transmissions will be considers as the supply of a service and neither side will impose tariffs on these.
  • Protection against the forced transfer of source code.

Finally, whilst not many people are travelling across Europe at the moment, it is worth noting that new regulations have come in for:

  • Using professional qualifications in Europe and whether they are still recognised.
  • Whether the trip equates to earning money in Europe by providing sevices, rather than simply attending a business meeting.
  • Travel visas, heath insurance and passports!

It is certainly positive that a deal was signed, but it is too early to understand all the implications at this point, and unfortunately, Brexit is far from done and will in our vocabulary for many months to come.

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