Scotland in Space: A history of the country’s involvement in the space industry

2nd Mar 2020
Scotland in Space

The UK launched its first satellite in 1971, becoming the sixth country in the world to conquer outer space. This satellite was called Prospero and was taken into orbit from a British built launch vehicle, Black Arrow. Before that day, British satellites were launched from American vehicles.

Since then, the UK space industry has grown to a truly cosmic scale. Annually, it brings over 11 billion pounds to the state treasury and gives employment opportunities to over 35 thousand people.

Scotland’s Space industry

Scotland plays a major part in the British space industry development. Today, Scotland alone manufactures more satellites than any other country in Europe.

Over 130 organizations are located in this country, along with the headquarters of 83 British aerospace companies. Their combined revenue reaches 140 million pounds.

These enterprises focus mostly on developing CubeSats and more recently, small launch vehicles. CubeSats are micro-satellites for Earth monitoring, weather forecasting, and global positioning. For example, 1U is a 10-cm satellite that weighs no more than a kilo. However, there are larger models – like 3U or 6U.

Despite being a leader in producing CubeSats, Britain is forced to use other countries’ services for launching their devices because they don’t have the launch facilities.

However, this problem will be addressed very soon. The construction of the first vertical launch site is already planned in the Scottish county of Sutherland. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the UK Space Agency are investing in this project.

Space Scotland: a path to success

The space industry in Scotland has grown significantly between 2016 and 2018. Over these years, it has grown by 27%. It would be impossible without local companies, offering a variety of innovative solutions.

One of the leaders in Scotland’s space industry is Clyde Space. This company was founded in 2005 in Glasgow. Over the years it has developed and provided more than 1000 subsystems for international space missions. Today, Clyde Space is the largest CubeSats manufacturer in Europe.

Its first satellite, UKube-1, was launched in 2014. Since then, the tech has been constantly improving.

Another company from Glasgow is Bird.i. It uses space intelligence data to monitor global construction projects. Bird.i. also developed the Trade in Space program, which aims to offer new financial services connected with satellite data.

The third largest company from Glasgow, Alba Orbital, is helping to develop and launch satellites. This is the largest company working with PocketCube space research satellites.

Another company, Skyrora Ltd. has its HQ in Edinburgh as well as industrial workshops and test sites nearby. Their R&D center is located in Ukraine, a country which has historically been at the forefront of space technology. Skyrora was founded in 2017. The company specializes in producing eco-friendly vehicles for launching small satellites into orbit and reducing the cost of launching satellites.

Skyrora made its first test launch in August 2018. Their Skylark Nano suborbital vehicle rose 6 km above the Earth. In 2019, its improved version, the Skylark Nano II, was launched.

Orbital Express Launch Ltd., who trade as Orbex Space, is another launch company with a presence in Scotland. They have secured a launch agreement at Sutherland in Scotland, where they will launch their Prime rocket, built in Germany and Denmark.

The company unveiled a prototype of their Prime rocket in 2019, which they hope to launch in 2021.

New companies are frequently appearing  in Scotland within the space sector. Where twenty years ago, the UK was only striving to become a leader in the global space market, today, it seems it is destined to take the lead in not just the development of small satellites but also in rocket launch services – all thanks to Scotland. With the construction of the Scotland space center in Sutherland, followed by Cornwall and Prestwick sites, the UK plans to become a leader in vehicle launch by 2030.

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