Scotland’s largely unknown space industry aiming for the stars

For more than 100 years Scotland was at the forefront of the technology which helped bring the nations of the world closer together.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century Clyde built ships ploughed the oceans, opening up transport and communication links around the globe.

Cube satellite launch

Cube satellite launch

Now, in the 21st century the nation is once again involved in creating and developing the means by which mankind will expand its horizons, but this time beyond the confines of earth.

The announcement that American satellite-powered data company Spire is to create 50 new jobs in Glasgow is just the latest in a long-line of developments in Scotland’s growing space industry.

There are already at least 30 Scottish-based companies, with a workforce in excess of 5,000 people, directly involved in developing technology for the space industry.

The sector is estimated to be worth almost £17 million to the national economy and it’s growing.

Four of Scotland’s leading universities, Dundee, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Edinburgh, are all internationally renowned for their space research.

For more than a decade the School of Computing at the University of Dundee has been at the forefront of spacecraft technology.

Russian Soyuz 2

Russian Soyuz 2

The standard equipment now used by NASA the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for communications on board spacecraft was conceived in Dundee.

Similarly PANGU, the planet and asteroid simulation tool used by ESA to help design navigation systems for future planetary landers was also developed in the City of Discoveries.

STAR-Dundee Ltd is the global leading developer and supporter of SpaceWire technology, a computer network used to connect elements like sensors or telescopes on board spacecraft.

NASA’s acclaimed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is currently using the system survey the lunar surface.

In Glasgow, Strathclyde University’s Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory has been working with Astrium, the third biggest space enterprise in the world.

Three locations in Scotland are also in the running to host the UK’s first commercial spaceport by 2018. Machrihanish airfield near Campbeltown, Kintyre, Glasgow Prestwick and Stornoway have all been confirmed as being on the shortlist.

Spire’s decision to open a new European headquarters’s, at Skypark in Glasgow will make it the company’s third global office.

The move has been supported with £1.9m grant from the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise to establish the creation of a Nano-Satelilte design, development manufacturing and data management facility in Scotland.

Scotland from space

Scotland from space

It will also support Scotland’s developing space industry, creating more job opportunities and stimulating progressive technological advancements in the field of weather data collection for the entire world.

“The confidence placed in us from Scotland enables us to expand our global footprint to attract the skills and talent we need to deliver on the next generation of weather satellites,” said Spire’s CEO, Peter Platzer.

“We are not only looking for the top one percent of the world’s talent pool, but the one percent that demand constant challenge and improvement that has come to embody Spire’s culture. And just as we aim to hire and nurture the best and brightest, we will continue to offer them a unique, well-rounded and international life experience with plenty of excitement to spare.”

Local MSP Sandra White described the move as further reinforcement of Scotland’s important place in the space industry.“This really is an exciting development for the city,” she said.

Scotland is already a world leader in the CubeSat platform as a result of the work of Clyde Space. The Glasgow-based company launched Scotland’s first ever satellite, UKube-1, last year aboard a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket to measure plasmaspheric space weather and take images of the earth.

In just 10 years Clyde Space has become the largest indigenous space company in Scotland, producing high quality, high performance systems for very small spacecraft.

Under the direction of CEO Craig Clark the company was one of the first commercial companies in the world to recognise the potential of the new technology and now accounts for about 40 per cent of the global market in power components for very small spacecraft called CubeSats.

The company also recently announced a £1million deal to build three CubeSats for American global broadcast company Outernet Inc in an international partnership deal funded by the UK Space Agency.

Outernet’s aim is to make web access free and unrestricted all over the world through space-based telecommunications. As the project develops, Clyde Space hopes to secure business from the New York based company to develop 200 satellites broadcasting the service.

The constellation of CubeSats in low earth orbit could revolutionise the provision of low cost data to remote regions of the world with an inexpensive alternative to traditional telecommunications systems.

Craig Clark, CEO of Glasgow-based Clyde Space, said: “Outernet is an ambitious and hugely important initiative to bring free information access to the world and we’re absolutely thrilled to be involved.

“The mission itself is a great example of how a spacecraft that is small enough to hold in your hand can provide what I believe will become a vital global service. That’s not to say the technical challenges of making a satellite this small are insignificant, but our team of spacecraft engineers and technicians are relishing the prospect of producing these spacecraft in the coming months.”

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