Scotland has a long history of innovation & invention across a whole number of sectors, including Space. Within the last decade, the country has seen improved academics centered around space technology and science. Scotland has built more satellites than any other European country. This is, however, not quite so widely known. The country has seen the most significant growth in the space industry than any other country within the last couple of years. And now with the pending launch capabilities being built in the Scottish Highlands, this is likely to grow at an even faster rate.
Scotland’s Space Exploration Efforts
The country is currently preparing to host Europe’s first vertical spaceport. Efforts for this mission could start early this year. Scotland is also planning to provide more economic opportunities for Britain with the launch of small satellites from its shores. Many of the satellites that will be launched into orbit will be built in Scotland. This could position the country as one of the leading nations in a rapidly growing industry.
What Makes Scotland an attractive launch location?
Scotland has many locations that are perfectly suitable for polar and SSO orbits. The UK Space Agency have put their funding behind a site at the A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland, but other sites are also in the running as potential launch locations including Saxa Vord in Shetland, and Scolpaig in North Uist. These locations are prime for the positioning of launch pads because they are mostly away from populated areas. A’Mhoine Peninsula on the north west coast of Scotland was chosen to become the UK’s first rocket launch site. The location is at a latitude of -58.5 degrees at the most minimum inclination.
New initiatives continue to emerge from Scotland in its ambition to become one of the world’s top destinations for space businesses. Clyde Space, Alba Orbital, Spire Global (with offices based in San Francisco) are amongst the many enterprises that are driving the country’s space ambitions. Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport is also in the running as a potential launch site as well as a small airport at Machrihanish near Campbeltown, although both of those will be carrying out horizontal rocket launches, which would involve a rocket launch from an aircraft.
Which launch vehicles are potentially going to be launched from Scotland?
- Lockheed Martin are potentially going to provide a small vehicle for one of the initial launches. Although detailed information about the vehicle has not been disclosed, some had speculated that it will be the Rocket Labs Electron rocket, however Rocket Labs have ruled this out.
- Orbex is another company that will be involved in the initial launches from Scotland. The company has indicated that it has reusable stages and have made claims about the biopropane fuel used in its Prime rocket, citing it as a more environmentally friendly fuel.
- Skyrora is also preparing to launch from Scotland although it appears they have not committed to any specific launch site as yet. They also use a greener fuel (than those traditionally used for rocket launch). Their mixture of hydrogen peroxide and kerosene gives an output of mostly steam.
So Why Does the Location Matter?
The British Interplanetary Society has suggested that Scotland is the best location for an SSO polar orbit. The launch trajectory completely avoids any populated areas and as such it satisfies many of the safety requirements of launch. From the Scottish locations a rocket can also be taken over a route where there are no active oil and gas exploration activities.
So in addition to the proposed vertical launches from Scotland, the UK Space Agency have also dished out millions of pounds in grants for Horizontal Launch facilities, with the preferred site being in Cornwall, on the southernmost tip of England. At Newquay airport the horizontal launch will be from a modified Boeing 747 operated by Virgin Orbit.
The UK could greatly benefit from this new small satellite launch industry. This could help the country and specifically Scotland have an impressive share of the global space industry. By launching from around the Scottish coastline, Scotland can boost the economy quite considerably, offering an increase in jobs, not only directly but indirectly as a result of increased economic activity around the launch facilities. The country is already primed for success as it has already carved out its significant share of the satellite industry. The addition of launch services and everything connected with that will further secure its place as a centre of global excellence in the field of space.