The audience heard from the chair, Gail Ross MSP, who advised that a planning application to develop the UK’s first spaceport on the coast of Sutherland has just been submitted. Set up with seed funding from the UK Space Agency, this new facility will be the latest addition to a vibrant industry in Scotland. The country already manufactures large numbers of small satellites and feeds into a worldwide supply chain.
At the Holyrood event, Paul Wells, Vice-Chair of the IET Satellite Technical Network, explained that space is a global industry, which is revolutionising communications technology in a range of fields including earth observation, quantum encryption, weather forecasting, shipping and global positioning. Applications even include the use of data from space to assist dredging operations in the River Moselle in Luxembourg, where he is based. Space-based activity now provides 2% of GDP in Luxembourg and this industry is opening up exciting avenues for Scotland, the UK and Europe. The global market for the total space industry is predicted to grow to $1 trillion by 2040. With the increasing demand for high-speed internet and mobile traffic, space is predicted to be a high growth industry, with exciting future prospects including space mining and space robotics, he said.
The second speaker, Malcolm Macdonald, Professor of Space Technology at the University of Strathclyde, stated that there are currently more than 180 organisations active in the Scottish space sector, a 35% increase since 2016. Scotland now has 18% of all UK Space jobs he said. Following the success of the first Scottish built spacecraft in 2014 by Clyde Space, the industry is rapidly enabling a growing array of space-enabled services monitoring activity ranging from global construction to agriculture. The Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications (SoXSA), is even assisting in the development of a smart connected fish farm.
The development of what will be Europe’s first spaceport will provide additional capacity to what is already a tight geographical cluster. Although both speakers were optimistic and enthusiastic about the prospects for Space both in Europe and in Scotland, they were also realistic about the challenges the industry faces. As the space sector is six times more research and development intensive than the UK average, this is a sector which needs government support. Raising finance and securing a pipeline of people with appropriate skills are also central issues.
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