Future UK access to Copernicus Contributing Missions is one of many questions surrounding a “No Deal” Brexit, which the UK insists is still unlikely. Credit: ESA

PARIS — The British government has asked the European Commission to clarify whether UK organizations with high-bandwidth access EU Copernicus Earth observation satellite data will be cut off from the service in the event of a “No Deal” Brexit.

It was one of several still-undetermined consequences if UK-European Union negotiations on Brexit end without an agreement.

Brexit’s effects on EU space programs have focused on the Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellite network and its geostationary-orbit overlay, called Egnos.

The British government has set aside 92 million British pounds ($117 million) for an 18-month study on the cost and feasibility of building its on navigation system if it cannot come to an agreement with the EU on Britain’s future involvement in the system: https://bit.ly/2olvfZa

But while Galileo has captured the headlines, Britain’s post-Brexit role in the Copernicus and Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) programs is also at issue.

British authorities continue to negotiate with the EU on the overall Brexit package, and both sides say they are confident they can come to an agreement that avoids a confrontational separation.

But what if that fails, or fails with respect to certain programs? On Sept. 13, the British government issued an advisory on what things would look like if Brexit talks end in acrimony: https://bit.ly/2NLdD74

There are still many questions left to be resolved.

For Copernicus, the UK will continue to have access to the systems data sets, as is true of organizations the world over. But UK companies will no longer take part in Copernicus infrastructure contracts.

Brexit will not affect British membership in the 22-nation European Space Agency, nor its place in the Eumetsat meteorological satellite organization or the European Center for Medium-Rang Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). These organizations receive Copernicus data and, through them, the UK will too.

But the high-bandwidth access now afforded to British organizations may stop when British is no longer an EU member. In addition, UK access to data from what are called Copernicus Contributing Missions — non-EU satellites whose data is purchased for use by Copernicus — may be denied post-Brexit.

“The UK is clarifying this with ESA and the European Commission,” the UK said in its worst-case-scenario document. It has also asked the European Commission about continued high-bandwidth access to Copernicus.

Also still unclear is the status of Copernicus work contracted with UK businesses and academics whose deliverables are due after the March 2019 Brexit date. Britain has asked the EU for clarification on this as well.

“UK-based Copernicus data users may wish to consider the impact that losing access to any Copernicus data or information not sourced under the free and open data policy will have on their operations,” the document says.

Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST)

The European Commission since 2014 has managed a Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) program that, while modest, is slated to grow under the next seven-year EU budget, to start in   2021 — after Brexit.

The SST program uses data from multiple EU nations, including France, Germany and Spain, blended with data from the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, to perform collision risk management, called conjunction analysis; and warnings of debris entering the atmosphere, or fragmentation analysis.

The EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) program is scheduled to grow in the proposed EU budget 2021-2027. Credit: ESA

The service has been providing this data since mid-2016 but is not a fully operational and will not be for several years.

With a “No Deal” Brexit, Britain would cease its participation in the SST program and would not take part in the program’s evolution.

Whether UK satellite operators would continue to receive SST advisories after Brexit, especially given that these are not related to the government’s participation, is another point to be clarified if Brexit goes badly.

The document advises British companies with SST-related contracts that go beyond March 2019 “to contact their relevant contracting authority” for clarification.

Galileo and Egnos

Unlike much of the public debate — including statements made by government ministers — the Sept. 13 document gives a mostly fair and accurate rendering of what Brexit will and will not mean for Galileo and Egnos.

British companies and agencies will continue to have access to Galileo’s Open Service, as do organizations the world over. But British companies will no longer be able to bid on at least some, and perhaps most, future Galileo and Egnos procurements.

The encrypted Public Regulated Service of Galileo, intended for government users only, will be available to Britain only after the UK and the EU sign a separate security agreement, which has not yet been done.

The document does not spell that out but says: “The Public Regulated Service will not be available to the UK; however, this is not expected to be completed until the mid-2020s and will not have immediate impact on users.”

More immediately, British organizations that host Galileo or Egnos ground infrastructure under contract to the EU are advised to contact the EU’s Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) “to verify the future position,” the document says.

EU negotiators have stood firmly behind the idea that all non-EU nations, even Britain, must seek separate agreements for access to the Public Regulated Service. It has become a point of principle that would be unlikely to change even if Brexit negotiations remove most other points of contention.