By Tavish Scott, LibDem MSP for Shetland and director, Shetland Space Centre

DID you have breakfast this morning? Coffee on the run? Or just the bus to work? Irrespective of our nutritional intake before hard labour starts, one fact is indisputable. Most of us will have used our mobile phones. Before arriving at work, each of us unwittingly uses 23 satellites. These allow our homes, our mobiles and the world around us function. That number is going up all the time. To service this growing worldwide demand, more and more small satellites are needed in space.

Satellites used to be enormous. Contemplate the Space Station or that particularly bad James Bond film. But in 2019, it is not Cape Kennedy or Ariane 6. Satellites are the size of a cornflakes packet. There are lots of them. Today’s race, a European competition to be first to blast off, is to provide rocket launch facilities and satellite tracking services for this rapidly-expanding market. The Portuguese government is piling money into the Azores. The Norwegians are up and running and will not slow down.

But the best place to launch small space rockets in Europe is Scotland. The farther north the better. Unst is the most northerly isle in the UK. Because of the need to launch satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits, it is the perfect site. A rocket launching from Unst crosses only sea as it rises through the atmosphere. Satellites then orbit around the world. They cross Shetland 28 times a day. That matters because these small pieces of technological brilliance need to send signals to earth all the time. Satellite data is downloaded to a ground station and then by fibre cable, instantaneously transmitted across the globe. Shetland will have a ground station, one of a network across Europe.

That is why a private sector business, Shetland Space Centre, is building the Unst spaceport to launch small rockets. An associated ground station will ensure each satellite’s data speeds across the globe. Unst is building this in collaboration with Ariane, the French/German space giant. Ariane brings proven space expertise to Shetland. They will design and build to industry standards in the timescale industry needs. Small companies in Glasgow and across the UK will use launch companies to put their technology into space. This means jobs, an emerging industry, in the central belt but also across the most far-flung parts of Scotland. Good jobs. STEM jobs. The educational advantages are vast.

Shetland is building alliances across the UK and Europe. Unst is working collaboratively with Benbecula and the Goonhilly Earth Station, which is Cornwall’s spaceport. Its chief executive says Shetland is the best location in Europe for satellite launch companies. Shetland will partner with the Faroes, as close as Glasgow by plane, on ground stations. Bavaria is home to Germany’s space industry. Bavarian rocket launch companies are committed to using Unst as this means the satellites access the right orbits.

Commercial business – the kit that makes your phone app work, is the core business. But Unst has had a Nato radar station since the 1950s. The Ministry of Defence presence continues.

The UK Government and its regulator, the UK Space Agency, will license space facilities. Its policy is to provide a level playing field. The key is being first to market. The task, in Nasa speak, is to deliver the mission. Unst will be the centre of the most exciting new industry to use Shetland since the Brent and Ninian oil fields were discovered 50 years ago.

Space is a win-win for all of Scotland. The final frontier may now be in sight.