Issue #1(11) 2017 Opinion

Could Brexit blow a hole in UK’s space ambitions?

The UK and Europe as viewed by British astronaut Tim Peake during his ESA mission on the International Space Station.
The UK and Europe as viewed by British astronaut Tim Peake during his ESA mission on the International Space Station.
Mike Leggett programme manager and space lecturer, Milton Keynes, UK

ROOM is an open forum for comment and opinion - and actively encourages contributions. To promote debate, discussion and inspiration we regularly publish commentaries and opinions by space leaders and those involved directly or indirectly in aerospace and space exploration. Here, Dr Michael Leggett analyses the possible effects of Britain leaving the EU (‘Brexit’) on the long-established cooperation of the UK and Europe in space.

“We are leaving the European Union not Europe”, an often-repeated phrase since the UK Referendum of 23 June 2016, and one which might offer some comfort to those who are participants in organisations outside the European Union (EU), including the European Space Agency (ESA). However, the distinction between the EU and intergovernmental organisations such as ESA is not always clear cut and the way ahead might not necessarily be plain sailing.

ESA is not part of the EU; it has 22 member states, not all of which are EU members. Norway and Switzerland are members of ESA, for example, but not members of the EU. Furthermore, the EU currently has 28 members (including the UK), not all of which are members of ESA.

On the face of it, Brexit should not directly affect the UK’s membership of ESA. However, there might be indirect effects as a consequence of ESA-EU programmes and depending on the final nature of Brexit.

The EU itself is a major contributor to ESA, principally for the Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS), which began operations in December 2016, and the Copernicus Earth observation programmes. Funded and owned by the EU, ESA acts as design and procurement agent for Galileo on behalf of the European Commission. Copernicus is also led by the EU.

Read more of Michael Leggett's analysis of what Brexit means for the UK's space program in the full version of the article, available now to our subscribers.

To continue reading this premium article, subscribe now for unlimited access to all online content

If you already have a login and password to access - Please log in to be able to read all the articles of the site.

Popular articles

See also


International cooperation drives Germany’s space ambitions

Space Lounge

The book of flight


Great expectations: launch markets, SpaceX, China, and other new players

Popular articles

Diffuse, water-ice clouds, a hazy sky and a light breeze. Such might have read a weather forecast for the Tharsis volcanic region on Mars on 22 November 2016, when this image was taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Space Science

When it comes to water Mars may not be the promised land

Testing of the Made In Space 3D printer involved 400-plus parabolas of microgravity test flights. Astronautics

Enabling private sector success in space - SGAC perspective

A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Space Science

Exploring the extreme universe