Galileo, OneWeb – What’s next for UK GPS users?

19th Feb 2024
Galileo, OneWeb – What’s next for UK GPS users?

With the UK government opting out of Europe’s Galileo GPS program, where does that leave people in the country using GPS? And what will the UK goverment need to do next?

GPS in the UK

The use of GPS satellite navigation requires access to a network of satellites. Historically, users in the UK used US military satellites for navigation. There are currently 31 GPS satellites in orbit owned and operated by America.

There are other constellations of GPS satellites. The Russian government has a GLONASS network, and the European Union has its Galileo constellation. The Chinese government also has its own network of satellites called BeiDou. 

All of these networks are generally free for people to use around the globe.

Big hopes for OneWeb

Controversially, the British government at one point made a swift, unexpected bid for a satellite constellation operator named OneWeb. At the time, OneWeb was facing severe financial difficulty and potential bankruptcy. So, the UK government intervened, and a company called Bharti Global paid $500 million to acquire the company.

The controversy stems from a leaked rumour that the UK government thought they were buying a potential GPS satellite network. Which, of course, wasn’t the case. The satellites the OneWeb were launching were internet satellites (which are very, very different and likely in the wrong orbits for GPS use). This story was widely reported and caused the UK government considerable embarrassment. 

Ordinary users probably won’t notice any disruption to their GPS usage as it is likely that whatever software they use, it will be programmed to link to whatever network the provider has an agreement with.

The only question we don’t really know the answer to is whether the British government is going to replace their involvement in Galileo with something else, or whether they are simply going to be happy with not being a major player in that particular field. They already burnt their fingers a bit with OneWeb, so expect a more cautious approach now.

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