TOULOUSE, France – Scottish small-satellite builder Clyde Space views Britain’s planned exit from the European Union as a non-event for its business given the company’s modest dependence on EU business, Chief Executive Craig Clark said.
Glasgow-based Clyde Space, which in recent years has become nearly as well-known as its rival, small-satellite pioneer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of England, has followed SSTL’s early development in securing a global customer set that is mainly outside Europe.
More recently, SSTL, owned by Airbus Defence and Space, has become a regular participant in European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union programs. The ESA participation will not be affected as the 22-nation agency is not part of the EU.
But SSTL’s role as a major contractor for the EU’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellite network could be challenged after the United Kingdom formally separates from the EU. That event is not expected to occur for at least two years, however.
Speaking June 30 at the Toulouse Space Show here, Clark said Clyde may be an anomaly among European satellite builders in that its growth – it now has some 60 small satellites under construction for different customers – has been among U.S., Asian and South African customers.
“We really don’t do that much business in Europe,” Clark said. “Our first contracts were in Asia, Japan, South Africa and the U.S. and it actually took us a few years to get a contract in the EU. We will be relatively unaffected by this,” he said of the Brexit decision by British voters in a June 23 referendum.
Privately held Clyde Space was formed in 2005. Since then, Clark said it has traversed an economic downturn “where a lot of contracts were on hold,” and was able to emerge healthy. “If there’s any impact from Brexit, we will do the same thing.”
Clyde Space expects to be turning out six cubesats, usually weighing only a few kilograms each, each month in 2016 based on its order backlog.
Clark’s comments come at the beginning of what’s likely to be months of assessment by British, EU and non-EU companies of Brexit’s consequences.
U.S., Canadian and other non-EU companies establishing themselves in Britain as a base from which to enter the European space market may need to revise their strategies, depending on what trade arrangements the UK makes with the EU as a non-EU nation.
But EU-based companies using Britain’s investment-friendly regulatory environment and the government’s belief in space as an engine of economic growth may conclude that Britain’s status as an on-ramp to the rest of the world remains intact even after Brexit.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, as did Northern Ireland. But Wales and England’s combined pro-exit sentiment carried the day despite the fact that London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The Scottish National Party, which supports Scottish independence from the UK, has said since the vote that Scotland wants to remain in the EU.