canary1

How will Brexit impact Galileo?  It’s not just about politics but physics, over which God has never abdicated control let alone expects someone to take it back.  It’s about sharing the physical planet.

Take time as an example.  We all enjoyed an extra second in 2016 thanks to the International Earth Rotation Service’s coordinating efforts.

A post WWII climate of cooperation gave rise to some giant planet-sharing organisations. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (1947); The International Maritime Organisation (1948) and the International Telecommunications Union are key examples.

There have been occasions when some parties have not played ball.  In 1976 – as a radio amateur – I can remember the HF bands being trashed by the “Woodpecker” – most likely a Soviet Union over-the-horizon radar.  (These were the days when many a Hi-Fi pre-amp spontaneously spouted Radio Moscow.)

Regulations can be seen as market enablers or restrictors.  The debate is as old as the hills.  In the early 1980s a British radio comedy satirised the UK government’s penchant for deregulation.  In a spoof interview, a government minister announced plans to allow airlines to opt-out of air traffic control.

“Won’t there be accidents?” asked the interviewer.

“Of course there will – but the good airlines won’t crash and will therefore gain more market share.”

A framework for international cooperation is good for the market.  Nowhere is this more the case than in outer space.   Here’s where Galileo comes in.

There is no reason why the symptoms of the current tide of anti-globalisation (of which Brexit might be one) should change this state of affairs.  The UK’s continued involvement in Galileo is – after all – just a “new agreement” away.  However, if the cause really is an emotional populist movement against sharing this is of much more of a concern.  Sooner or later, babies and bathwater will be muddled.

Sharing lies at the heart of a global satellite navigation system made up of interoperable national sovereign systems.  The launches, the orbits, the frequencies, the power levels and the modulation schemes all rely on the grown-up sharing of space and the ether.

So maybe, rather than be pessimistic, we should look to GNSS as the miner’s caged canary.  It may not sing sweetly all the time – no matter.  If it’s lying on the bottom of the cage with its feet in the air – be concerned.