Scotland has a rich history of manufacturing and engineering, with Glasgow once famed as the ‘Second City of the Empire’ due to its ship building industry. While Glasgow’s glory days in this regard may have passed, the city, and the nation as a whole, is turning its gaze from the oceans and toward the skies.
With a vibrant digital technology sector and an abundance of academic institutions in Scotland, the country could play a crucial role in the future of the global space industry. It won’t be the first time Scotland has punched above its weight on a global scale, but to do so will require investment, collaboration and, crucially, pioneering minds and companies to lead the charge.
Indeed, the country already has a host of companies conducting groundbreaking research and developing a new wave of technologies that are rapidly changing how we operate in space. More satellites are built in Glasgow than any other place in Europe, and more than 80 UK space industry firms have headquarters located in Scotland, generating more than £140 million in income for the Scottish economy.
DIGIT has outlined some of the most innovative companies operating in Scotland’s thriving space sector.
Headquartered in Edinburgh, Skyrora specialises in the development of launch vehicle technology, which aims to reduce the financial and resource costs of space launches.
Last year, the firm successfully completed its inaugural test launch. Skyrora’s next rockets, Skylark Micro and SkyHy, are ready to launch, with the latter capable of reaching the edge of space – a feat thus far never accomplished by a private company launching from the UK.
The firm hopes to capitalise on the fast-growing small satellite launch market, and recently expanded its operations to Cornwall Airport Newquay.
Skyrora also played a pivotal role in returning an iconic piece of aerospace history to the UK last year when it recovered the Black Arrow rocket; the UK’s first and only rocket to reach orbit.
Want to find out more? Find Skyrora here.
Glasgow-based firm Clyde Space has cultivated a reputation as a world-leading developer and supplier of CubeSats (miniaturised satellites) and small satellite systems. While Glasgow was once renowned as the ‘shipyard of the empire’, Clyde Space is helping to forge a new era of manufacturing in the Glasgow area.
Founded in 2005 by Craig Clark, the firm has gone on to supply more than 1,000 subsystems for missions across the world and launched Scotland’s first ever satellite, UKube-1 in 2014.
In January 2018, Clyde Space was acquired by a Swedish commercial space firm AAC Microtec in a deal worth £26 million. The company works alongside a host of international organisations, with clients including NASA, the US Air Force and the UK Space Agency. In 2017 alone, the company manufactured 60 satellites in Scotland.
Around 80% of Clyde Space sales are with customers outside of the EU, and more than 95% outside of the UK.
Want to find out more? Find Clyde Space here.
Spire is a nanosatellite and data analysis company. Although based out of San Francisco, the firm’s global expansion saw the opening of a key manufacturing facility in Glasgow.
The ‘Space-as-a-Service’ firm specialises in gathering data from small satellites in low-earth orbit to track aviation, maritime and weather patterns. It works closely with a host of global organisations to develop technology to support maritime radar, which helps ships avoid collisions at sea.
Founded in 2012 by Peter Platzer, Joel Spark and Jeroen Cappaert, Spire has successfully deployed more than 80 earth observation CubeSats into low-earth orbit. In 2018, it was awarded a £4 million contract from the UK Space Agency to showcase and validate new space-based technologies to help put satellites into orbit faster and at lower costs.
Want to find out more? Find Spire here.
Based in Musselburgh, East Lothian, Astrosat is a space services and management company, which has tapped into the growing commercialisation of the space sector.
The firm helps track illegal logging, tackle fuel poverty and improve natural disaster response through images taken from space, working alongside public bodies around the world to use space technology for good.
One system created by Astrosat, the Recovery and Protection in Disaster system (RAPID), aims to use data sourced from satellites orbiting the earth to allow developing countries to improve disaster recovery practices, as well as improve resilience in the long-term.
Astrosat has provided satellite data to help companies around the world, as well as research groups and aid organisations, and works closely with the UK and European Space Agencies.
Want to find out more? Find Astrosat here.
Another Glasgow-based addition, Alba Orbital, focuses on getting people to build and launch their own satellites.
The company, founded by entrepreneur Tom Walkinshaw, provides parts and support for companies building their own PocketQube class satellites.
These lightweight, miniaturised satellites are ideal for space research, and usually have a size of around 5cm cubed, which is around one-eighth the volume of a CubeSat.
Alba Orbital works alongside a host of companies, academic institutions and government organisations around the world, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and SkyFox Labs. It was with the ESA that Alba Orbital developed its advanced 3p PocketQube platform, known as Unicorn-2.
Want to find out more? Find Alba Orbital here.