The UK Government appear to be distancing themselves from plans for for a new sovereign satellite navigation system amid delays and high costs.

Back in 2018, the Government announced that it was going to invest £92 million of Brexit readiness money on plans for independent satellite navigation system. An 18-month study was to look at the design and development of UK programme and this would in turn inform the decision to create the system as an alternative to Galileo.

Why did the UK need an alternative? The Financial Times had reported that Britain wanted press ahead with its own satellite navigation system should the European Union continue to insist that the UK be barred from secure elements of Galileo.

In March 2020, it was revealed that the effort had been delayed over concerns about cost and then this month, The Telegraph that officials in Whitehall have been pushing ministers to announce the project’s cancellation.

Now, the Government appear to be emphasising a “system of systems” approach, using a mix of currently available systems the UK already has access to, rather than creating a new home grown satellite navigation system.

James Heappey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, said:

“UK Armed Forces rely upon accurate Positioning, Navigation and Timing information for a variety of critical applications. We have privileged access to US GPS, the world’s foremost GNSS system.

The Ministry of Defence is committed to a systems-of-systems approach to managing PNT vulnerabilities; we are working across Government, including the UK Space Agency, to develop options for UK Assured PNT to maximise return on investment and meet Critical National Infrastructure requirements.”

However, with Boris Johnson signalling his support for the £5 billion effort, it remains to be seen what will happen. We’ll just need to wait for the release of the National Space Strategy.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

It wouldn’t surprise me if we binned the idea!

Steve H

Hopefully not Cam, if we did bin the idea it would almost look like that we can’t do anything on our own…. like we can’t survive without the EU mafia.


yeah, it might look like we are not an empire any longer! We can’t have that!


What would be an idea would be the development of small cheap sats that could be launched quickly. Say from Virgin Orbit, in the event that parts of the US GPS system are knocked out, to plug the gaps. The US has in-orbit spares but I could see them buying into that.


There is a government program for that, to develop a cheap rapid deployment LEO satellite for communications/recon.


They pinched my idea?!? ?

I would imagine it’s possible to add some positioning functionality to them. Or possibly stock satellites with different payloads; comms, recon, or positioning.


Its actually pretty difficult to add positioning, for a positioning satellite you need to have one or more atomic clocks onboard which are large (size of a desk), heavy, expensive and delicate).


You don’t cheaply launch, or launch cheap satellites, in to MEO. And physics dictates that’s where you put GNSS unfortunately.


We shouldn’t try to do it alone go to Australia, New Zealand and Canada and ask them about a join project. They maybe quite happy to get out of under the US thumb in this area.

Daniele Mandelli

Why not just continue to use the US GPS, some of whose ground stations are on British Oversees Territories?

I’d rather see that 5 billion spent on increasing NHS efficiency, buying kit for civil defence/ contingencies ( like PPE ), spent on in demand areas of the military, or spent on UK specific CNI.


I’d suggest to the US to place GPS within Five Eyes and have it funded by all members.

PPE kit has a shelf life. I believe the first priority of Project Defend is to ensure we have sufficient UK based manufacturing of PPE and pharmaceuticals so as not to rely on another country. After that they should expand it into other areas to ensure resilience.

Daniele Mandelli

I quite agree. Sovereign capability.


New Zealand won’t allow the US to dock a nuclear powered aircraft carrier or submarine in one of its ports. Canada is buying obsolescent used fighters from Australia and its Armed Forces are a joke. Australia is a small regional power. The UK refuses to spend sufficient resources to defend itself. And you want the US to turn over a multi-billion dollar vital defense asset to these nations. Not to mention that the current upgrade to GPS (III) is set to cost $5 billion. Really?

Oscar Zulu

Australia? That small regional power that has just a third of the UK’s population (38%) yet has a defence budget half that of the UK (53%)?

Is that the Australia you are talking about?


He’s American so any comparison vs the UK will seem small to him. He is kind of missing the point that we all pay for access to GPS though.


I think they’re talking about the New Zealand which has fought in almost every conflict that the US participated in since World War 2 and contributes valuable SF contingents to areas around the globe; the very strategically placed regional power that is Australia, growing and expanding its military capabilties into the Pacific (the new focus of US global power) and who also has fought alongside the US consistently since WW2; Canada, a major trading partner with the US who shares an immense strategic border, and who has also been a solid ally to the US- particularly at the moment to… Read more »

Steve R

Most of the world wont allow a US carrier or nuke sub to dock in their ports; nothing to do with it being American; they don’t want anything nuclear on their doorstep. Probably one of the reasons (besides cost) that we didn’t opt for QE being nuclear powered.


That was precisely one of the reasons it was conventionally powered. Carriers are often used for diplomatic missions and not being able to dock in many ports would be a major issue for that.


We don’t spend the defence budget on nhs PPE they already badly spend the billions they Already get if we give them more they will waste more one hospital had a advert for a diversity leader on 50/60 k give them more they waste more

Mark B

Isn’t GPS a bit elderly? I suspect we will be back in the arrangement with the EU but that doesn’t come to pass we should buy something cutting edge to last us many decades.


GPS may have launched in the 80’s and 90’s but they’ve been launching newer versions continuously since then. They’re currently on GPSIII which is as advanced as other systems if not more so in some aspects and will finish launching in 2023. GPS is something you can pretty much guarantee the US will continuously update since it’s so heavily relied upon by so many parts of the government and keeps tens of thousands employed in advanced satellite design and manufacturing.


Spending 5 billion on NHS efficiency would be a waste of time. NHS is too much of political football thus will never be run efficiently there will always be cries that cost cutting is risking lives as soon as you mention efficiency.

Daniele Mandelli

I agree. I also didn’t simply say spend more as I think they get enough already!

Sadly you’re right. Political dynamite. Same old system. Same old waste.


Never mind. But who needs reliable secure comms in this day and age? The important thing is that we’ll still be able to get to Birmingham slightly more quickly by train–in about 2042*.

* provisional.


This article is referring to proposed U.K. GNSS, not future SATCOM.


Substitute “navigation system”. Note how the point still stands. *Priorities n a post-Covid economy*


We have world-leading MILSATCOM, so I’m not sure it still does.


This was never about commercial viability, it was to bootstrap a satellite manufacturing and launch industry.

Much better ways to do that than another navigation system, it would be better to spend it on Earth Observation probably.


The other complication that doesn’t seem to have been explicitly mentioned is whether or not satellite navigation will be rendered redundant by advances in e.g. quantum navigation or navigation using ‘signals of opportunity’. It would be unfortunate to have invested heavily in a capability if it was almost immediately rendered obsolete.


What Ian said!

Rob Collinson

I agree with what Ian said. RN going down the line of Quantum navigation. Specialise that to a point of others buying it from us! Spend to stay within the US GPS system.

Mr Bell

It is going to be scrapped as we simply are now bankrupt thanks to Covid19 and the governments costly response to the pandemic, not that I think they had any other option but the furlough scheme at the time. Just would have been better to have shut the borders, stopped the disease coming in or put in place a mandatory quarantine period of 2 weeks for all new arrivals or uk nationals returning from abroad. Still we live and learn, maybe next pandemic we will treat the disease with more respect and strive really hard to keep it out of… Read more »


Perhaps investing in UK innovation like the quantum compass could be a better investment log term. A capable adversary would target GPS satellites if a full blown conflict was to break out.

Steve H

With the availability of relatively cheap launches from commercial companies and GPS satellites being not that expensive, it would be better in my opinion to use a combined system of British/US and possibly the rest of the 5 eyes technologies. As we’re now experiencing a childish, spoilt little brat attitude from the EU, we really will be better off with our closest 5 eye partners.


Where are you sourcing these ‘not that expensive’ GPS satellites? They’re some of the most complicated kit up there. And launching to MEO hasn’t experienced the cost reductions that launching to LEO has. However agree with your point on tech diversification within the 5 eyes community…just not other on-orbit systems.

Mr Me

Delays and high costs. If I had a pound for every time I have read that…


Crazy to spend all those billions when they get full access to the U.S. GPS constellation for free.