Richard Lochhead

WHEN we use a car’s sat nav, listen to weather reports, connect with people across the world, use credit card and banking apps…. all of this is made possible by work going on in space.

The space sector already has an enormous impact on our everyday lives, but it also presents a huge economic opportunity for Scotland, and this promises to be a momentous year with Shetland on course to host the first orbital launch from UK soil.

The economic benefits were even more apparent when I attended the ground-breaking ceremony this week, marking the official start of construction at Sutherland Spaceport, as well as a tour of the Orbex rocket manufacturing facility in Forres.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is giving £3 million to support the development of the spaceport, completing a public investment package that includes just over £9m from the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise – on top of the £2.55m from the UK Space Agency in 2018.

In 2018, there were an estimated 2,000 active satellites in orbit. By 2030, it is predicted to be 27,000. And satellites have gone from the size of double decker buses to that of a shoebox, costing far less and taking just six months to design, build and deploy them, rather than decades.

In Glasgow we have companies such as Spire, AAC Clyde, Craft Prospect and Alba Orbital, employing highly skilled engineers and building more small satellites than any other place outside California. We also have expertise in gathering and analysing the data collected by satellites, with Edinburgh hosting the largest centre for informatics in Europe and having more than 170 data science companies.

Like space itself, the opportunities in the sector are limitless - from space-based energy to asteroid mining and in-orbit manufacturing.

It is no surprise that the global market is enormous. Estimates project growth to £490 billion by 2030. And we believe that Scotland can capture a £4bn share of the global market and support up to 20,000 high value jobs over the next decade.

It’s ambitious, but with strong partnership and collaboration we can achieve it. And that is exactly what we have with industry through Space Scotland and academia through the Scottish Space Academic Forum.

The Scottish Government completes that partnership to achieve our collective ambition for Scotland to become a leading European space nation through the provision of the full end-to-end value chain for small satellites. That ambition was set at World Expo in Dubai, when together we launched Scotland’s first ever Space Strategy.

Launch is the final piece of the puzzle. And that’s coming together rapidly in 2023.

Our vertical spaceports - SaxaVord in the Shetland Isles and Sutherland in Caithness - are due to begin operating shortly. This will be followed by suborbital activity in the Western Isles, and horizontal launch from Prestwick, supported through the Islands and Ayrshire Growth Deals. And these spaceports are attracting international customers from across Europe and the US.

We also have domestic companies developing their own launch vehicles. Skyrora is planning to launch its XL vehicle from SaxaVord, which will also play host to the UK’s pathfinder launch from Lockheed Martin. Orbex will also launch its Prime vehicle from Sutherland having completed its latest funding round, led by a £17.8m investment from the Scottish National Investment Bank. The company is now ramping up recruitment toward first launch with around 100 people employed across three buildings.

We are believed to be the first country in the world to publish a Space Sustainability Road Map – outlining how to reduce the sector’s environmental impact by making space missions debris neutral, and on-the-ground activities emission free, to gain global recognition as a leader in sustainable space.

Scotland’s growing international reputation is evidenced through the recent attraction of Mangata Networks to Prestwick, and the establishment of the Scotland International Space Advisory Committee (SISAC) which is a network of business leaders around the world to identify future opportunities and strengthen our global position.

A recent publication on the UK Space Industry reaffirms Scotland is punching above its weight in terms of performance, accounting for more than 8,500 jobs - almost one fifth of all UK space sector jobs. It also recognises strong growth in our company base and annual income.

Scotland is perfectly positioned to be at the forefront of the space sector, and we fully intend to make the most of the exciting opportunities this industry offers.

Richard Lochhead is Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade in the Scottish Government