Glasgow space agency envisions Scottish spaceport

Clyde Space Ltd CEO Craig Clark. Picture: John Devlin
Clyde Space Ltd CEO Craig Clark. Picture: John Devlin
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Clyde Space founder Craig Clark, reveals the challenges of starting up a space company, keeping up with satellite demand and the dream of a Scottish spaceport.

Clyde Space, a Scottish space company that builds and supplies small and micro spacecraft systems sent the first satellite to be fully assembled in Scotland into space in July 2014.

The satellite named UKube-1, was the brainchild of Clyde Space founder Craig Clark and his staff. After the missions success, the team are now looking ahead to the bright future of Scotland’s space industry.

Scotland's first satellite, UKube-1. Picture: Robert Perry

Scotland's first satellite, UKube-1. Picture: Robert Perry

Recently celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Scottish company is growing at about 100 per cent a year and has gone from having no staff, to 75 people working from their new office in Finnieston, Glasgow. The number of staff is likely to rise over the next five years as the market prepares to take off and the prospect of a Scottish spaceport becomes closer to a reality.

“Over the next five years there’s going to be thousands of spacecraft launches”, Clark explains. “A really interesting and exciting aspect of that is the UK Space Agency, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise all working to try to build a spaceport in the UK. There’s a really good chance that one of them will be in Scotland because there’s so many sites identified.”

The possible introduction of a spaceport would be extremely beneficial, not only to the work of Clyde Space, but in boosting employment and tourism in Scotland, according to Clark: “Tourism is extremely important to our economy, think of the additional tourism we’d attract if there was launched every month”.

As the first of its kind in Scotland, Clyde Space has grown from nothing into a leading supplier of CubeSat, Nanosatellite, Small Satellite and spacecraft systems. It has brought Scotland to the forefront of the space industry by attracting companies from across the world and creating a number of new jobs.

There’s a really good chance that one of the spaceports will be in Scotland because there’s so many sites identified.

Clyde Space founder Craig Clark

“We’re building over 60 satellites in the next 18 months here in Glasgow. We also have a number of other satellites, about 12 other missions, that we’re working on for various customers” Clark says, unperturbed by the increased workload ahead.

The team have recently been joined by Spire, who specialise in data analysis of information gathered from satellite constellations, and work alongside Clyde Space in their office in Finnieston.

Clark was integral in securing their business here in Scotland. “They had an office in San Francisco, then Singapore and they were interested in opening one in Europe. Initially they were looking at other places and discounted the UK” Craig says. “ I said to them well, you want to build all these spacecraft and satellites to launch so why don’t you come to Glasgow and we’ll build them with you in our cleanroom?

“After some discussions with Scottish Enterprise and how we could do that, this is now their main office.

Clyde Space clean room. Picture: John Devlin

Clyde Space clean room. Picture: John Devlin

“Effectively all of their staff are here and it created 50 new jobs in Scotland. We want to provide the spacecraft to people who want to use space to generate data so it’s the perfect relationship.”

Job creation is one of the main focuses of Clark, he believes in “creating really highly skilled jobs that are Masters and PHD level.”

“The space industry is mostly export, it’s not just export from Scotland - its export from the UK and Europe. So we’re bringing revenue into the country that’s not normally there.” For now, the team at Clyde Space have the success of UKube-1 to revel in. Despite some technical challenges in orbit, the mission achieved a range of milestones including the successful deployment of solar panels and antenna, the successful testing of on-board camera technology and data downlinked from multiple ground stations across the globe.

The UKube-1 was a technology demonstration mission with a broad set of objectives aimed at attracting and training future generations of engineers and encouraging collaboration across sectors and institutions.

Within only ten years, the company have changed to face of Scotland’s whole space industry, and proven that there is scope for the country to be a leader in the sector. “There’s an element of entrepreneurship in how we started. Starting a space company where there wasn’t a space company is quite unusual but if you’re determined and passionate enough to achieve your goals, you can do anything” Clark believes.