Craig Clark, engineer, mathematician and space man, is throwing some numbers about the place.
The first one is 200 when he predicts what the world will be like in 200 years time. The second one is 3700 when he talks about his plans for a satellite 3700 miles above the earth. But first of all, I'd like to know what's happening about 9ft to our right.
Four or five people are standing there, on the other side of a glass partition, and they're dressed in white overalls and surgical masks. Behind them is a computer showing a number that's counting down in what looks like quite an apocalyptic way. It resembles the set of a movie called Virus or Outbreak but in fact this is what the modern space industry looks like.
Loading article content
Convincing people of that fact – the fact that Scotland really is part of the business of space and it's happening here on the edge of Maryhill in Glasgow – is part of what 39-year-old Craig Clark's company, Clyde Space, is all about. On the other side of the glass partition, the staff are putting together a satellite called UKube-1. In a few months' time it will be sent 3700 miles up into the atmosphere where it will complete 14 rotations of the earth every day for five years.
For Clark, UKube-1 is about proving that his small company – started with £20,000 from the sale of his house – can put a satellite together, launch it and operate it. They won't make a profit on the project, but he hopes the story, and the brand, will be spread by thousands of enthusiasts – who will communicate with the satellite via dongles on their laptops – and in the long run lead to bigger things. It is, he says, his pilot mission.
That's not a phrase Clark is in any way embarrassed about using – in fact, he often uses words and phrases like spacecraft, five-year mission, flight configuration and on-board computer in an unselfconscious way and it's an engaging quality. With his shaved head and skinny suit, he may look like the lead singer of a band from the 1990s, but when he talks, he's a space man.
"I have a vision to build these satellites and sell them all over the world," he says. "One day I hope to be making hundreds of them at the same time in a bigger facility. These are small satellites and they can do a lot but the real killer would be to launch hundreds of them to give full global coverage."
That kind of talk could make Clark sound like a Bond villain, but his ideas are benign (although he has worked on a satellite for the US Army). He thinks, for example, that the type of small, 4x14x14in satellites he's been selling since 2005 could be linked to provide a live map of the world; the pictures on Google Maps are three years old, he says, but with his system you could look at the world, or your street, almost contemporaneously.
So where did all these ideas come from? There was certainly no inevitability to it, no obvious signs from a young age that Clark was going to be an entrepreneur. He was brought up in Cumbernauld and although he loved maths and physics, he was just as good at music, playing in orchestras and a band called The Custard Experiment.
"I suppose I was more a rock kid than a geek," he says, "and it was a toss-up about whether I'd be in a band professionally." In fact, the band he drummed for at university, The Starlets, is still on the go.
Once Clark got to university at Glasgow where he studied engineering, he still didn't shine – in third year he failed most of his exams and only scraped through on the re-sits. "It was a lack of focus and laziness," he says, "I lived away from home in halls of residence and all my lectures were in the morning so I always slept in. I very nearly flunked out."
He made it though and after graduating, found a job with the UK's first satellite company in Surrey where he stayed for ten years. It was towards the end of his time there that the idea for his business flickered into life.
"My wife and I had our first child and Lynn was pregnant with the second and I'd been working for the same company for 10 years and was thinking: where's this going? I wanted to do my own thing and was starting to feel restricted.
"I was talking to a friend and told him we were thinking of moving back to Scotland and the first thing he said was: are you going to start your own business? I thought it was crazy but he planted a seed and I thought: well, what kind of person does start their own business?"
At first, he thought the answer was other people rather than him and he still thinks Scotland doesn't always provide the best atmosphere for entrepreneurship to flourish. "In Scotland – certainly when I was growing up – there was no one around me that had their own business; it just didn't seem like something I'd ever do. We don't encourage entrepreneurship in Scotland. The attitude is: get a good job."
In the end, Clark decided to go for it, much to the worry of his parents. He sold his house in Surrey, raising the £20,000 he needed to pay for branding, and within two weeks was in Japan at the biggest space conference in the world. It was there he first heard about the idea of micro-satellites, or cube-sats, and began to develop them back in Scotland, even though he quickly met a wall of scepticism.
"There was no space industry in Scotland," he said. "When you think about space, you think of Nasa and the Apollo mission and the European Space Agency always get a bit annoyed no-one knows who they are. I had people saying: you'll never make money from that, you should focus on something else. But then I started getting sales." He could sell you a satellite right now for £30,000 for the basic model and £200,000 for the super-duper one.
There were times, though, when he struggled to balance work and life with his wife, their son, seven, and daughter, nine. He also worried about where the business was going to come from, and it still depresses him that, despite the fact Scotland invented engineering – and Scotty was on the USS Enterprise for goodness sake – all his customers are abroad. "We don't have anyone in Scotland buying satellites," he says. "We have to overcome some of our own prejudices against ourselves."
He hopes UKube-1, which is costing around £400,000, half of his entire company, and will be launched from the Russian Soyuz craft some time after July, will help do that and is hopeful the space industry, after some years of retrenchment, is rediscovering its passion for exploration. President Barack Obama has already given his support to the US/European Orion mission that aims to send men to an asteroid and then to Mars and Clark thinks it's a wonderful opportunity for companies like his to exploit the commercial opportunities of space. He certainly has no sympathy for the idea that at time when there are so many financial problems on the ground, the last thing we should be doing is wasting money on the stars.
"You can either survive or you can keep growing as a race," says Clark. "And we've always been explorers. We've explored every inch of our planet and we're still trying to find out what's in the deepest parts of the oceans. It's natural that we want to explore the solar system as well."
Where this zeal for exploration comes from in Clark is unclear but some of it may be down to his love of science fiction, particularly the hard stuff written by the likes of Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks, both of whom are coming to visit Clyde Space next month. Last week, the science minister David Willetts was also at the company's offices and Clark thinks the minister is doing a good job. In fact, the main headline in a copy of Space News that's lying on Clark's desk is about a 25% increase in Government spending on space.
Clark welcomes this investment because for him it's money spent on the future, and also an escape from a darker past. "I'm an optimist," he says, "and I think we'll end up in a brighter place in 200 years time. Look back 200 years and see how far we've come – we're living longer, we have a much higher quality of life and what are the reasons for that? Is it the social or political changes? Are we governing better, or is it technology? It's science that's made the biggest changes and it will continue to do so. Life will improve."
craig clark Chief executive, Clyde Space