Scotland in Space: The future’s bright

5th May 2020
Scotland in Space: The future’s bright

Scotland is internationally known for its scientific prowess and innovative contribution to the world. Its space sector is actively developing micro-satellites and data transmission systems and has been doing so for some time. Today, Scotland produces more satellites than any other country in Europe. 

Impressive potential and massive production capabilities

To date, over 130 space companies and organizations operate in this country. They deal with satellite television broadcasting, designing and constructing small satellites for earth observation and communication, and processing data received from space. As a result, Scotland’s space sector has grown by 27% over the past few years.

Spire Global and Clyde Space are designing small satellites. Their satellites are already in orbit and collect data about Planet Earth. The main feature of these satellites is their small size (some only 10 cm in diameter) and, as a result, their affordable launch costs in comparison to much larger satellites.

New launch vehicles are now being developed in Scotland. For example, Orbex introduced a prototype of its lightweight Prime launcher in 2019. This vehicle is equipped with the largest of all existing 3D-printed engines. Skyrora, a company located in Edinburgh, is working on a similar launch vehicle. Its main goal is to design a series of environmentally friendly rockets.

Spaceport construction

The latest Scotland space sector developments deal with spaceport construction. Over the past few years, the UK Space Agency has been supporting several promising launch site projects at once. Most of them are located in Scotland.

A vertical launch site in Sutherland, managed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has great prospects. This spaceport will launch small satellites into orbit. The facility will hold both local carriers, designed and built in Scotland and those made in other countries. Namely, American companies such as Lockheed Martin and Rocketlab are interested in becoming Sutherland customers. Although both have recently been pretty quiet and doubt has arisen on whether they will launch from Sutherland at all. 

Aside from standard, vertical launch sites, the government considers horizontal spaceport projects. For example, Prestwick airport already has a three-kilometer runway that is almost ready for launches. The most likely customer for this would be Virgin Orbit who have so far only declared their interest in launching from Spaceport Cornwall. However, they could feasibly use this runaway to launch its modified Boeing 747-400 cargo plane, Cosmic Girl. Their rocket, Launcher One, is launched from the wing of the Boeing 747 at a 30 thousand feet altitude. 

Horizontal launches are apparently more affordable because they use less powerful engines and, thus, need less fuel. Besides, they create opportunities for suborbital passenger traffic, which is five times faster than conventional air travel.

All in all, Scotland’s space future looks bright. 

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