How this Scottish firm is looking to change our perceptions of space

“Most space technology isn't about space, it's about Earth.”

Daria “Dasha” Filichkina is chief operations officer at Edinburgh-headquartered AstroAgency, which specialises in space-focused strategic communications and market intelligence. The business, which has secured several contract wins in recent years including with the UK Space Agency, is one of the growth engines of the Scottish space sector which it is hoped could become Europe’s leading space nation by 2030.

Filichkina, who is from Ukraine, previously held a variety of roles in the space sector, including business-development manager and delivery manager in the European launch sector, and she is set to be keynote speaker at the Ignite Space conference in Leeds that starts today and runs until tomorrow Of her role at the event, she says: “It's an honour to speak at Ignite Space, the only conference focused on space SMEs. Small companies make up most of the commercial space industry and they need guidance and support... there will be many new businesses in attendance who are in the position that we were not too long ago.”

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Can you explain what your role at AstroAgency entails, and what your key priorities are for the firm?

Filichkina says there are many inspiring women in the UK space sector, 'but we need more female leaders'. Picture: contributed.Filichkina says there are many inspiring women in the UK space sector, 'but we need more female leaders'. Picture: contributed.
Filichkina says there are many inspiring women in the UK space sector, 'but we need more female leaders'. Picture: contributed.

We deliver projects for more than 60 global clients across private companies, universities, and international government agencies. Our mission is to change the perception of what “space” means to different audiences. We want to move away from traditional ideas around astronauts and Mars, showcasing that most space technology isn't about space, it's about Earth.

We all use satellites multiple times a day; GPS for travel, weather forecasts, payment processing, internet, television. Satellites provide data to support environmental protection, track illegal fishing, prevent landslides on our railways, and highlight problems within our crops. AstroAgency broadens the opportunities for space to support people, businesses, and society, through jobs, supply chain, and insights gained from satellites.

I ensure our working environment, processes, and standards, meet our clients' needs, and manage client accounts, particularly those requiring large teams to execute complex projects. Our company's rapid growth also necessitates constant adjustments to our operations.

Scotland has a rocketing presence in the space sector, and the Scottish National Investment Bank, for example, has said the nation could be one of the most significant players in the new space race. How is AstroAgency contributing to this?

'We’re proud of our role in Scotland’s space strategy,' says the executive. Picture: contributed.'We’re proud of our role in Scotland’s space strategy,' says the executive. Picture: contributed.
'We’re proud of our role in Scotland’s space strategy,' says the executive. Picture: contributed.

We were set up in Edinburgh by a founder who has helped establish five Scottish space companies, including Space Scotland. Many of our clients have local operations, and we’re pleased to have supported all of Scotland’s enterprise agencies, regionally and nationally.

We’re proud of our role in Scotland’s space strategy, and our work with partners Optimat, Scottish Enterprise, and Space Scotland’s environmental task force, authoring the world’s first space sustainability strategy – a roadmap that shows Scotland as a global leader in this area.

AstroAgency has more women than men in its team, and you have said it is a “pleasure to work alongside so many inspiring women driving the sector forward”. Can you give your thoughts on this in more depth, including how more women can be encouraged into the sector?

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There are many inspiring women within the UK space sector, but we need more female leaders. We have a responsibility to act as ambassadors and attract other underrepresented groups into the industry. The sector’s skills pipeline must welcome people with all kinds of skillsets if it’s to reach its full potential.

You were last year presented with a special Sir Arthur Clarke Award for your contribution to the UK space industry. What was your reaction to this, and what attracted you into – and has kept you in – the sector?

It felt incredibly rewarding for my contribution to the sector to be acknowledged, particularly because we’re not a typical space company. We don’t have hardware or technology commonly associated with space. We focus on communicating important messages to different audiences. This award is for the entire AstroAgency.

Being able to contribute to the space industry and understanding the scale and impact of what we do keeps me in the sector. Space can significantly improve our lives, and working with companies with unique and visionary goals is incredibly fulfilling. This sense of purpose keeps me motivated. The collaborative spirit of the space community is another major factor.

AstroAgency’s 2024 Charity of the Year is Dnipro Kids, which supports displaced orphans from your native Ukraine who have relocated to the UK. Can you explain more about this?

We’ve always supported charities, but we tended to focus on organisations with a link to space. When the invasion happened, we added Dnipro Kids, inspired by the charity’s efforts to drive more than 50 orphans to safety from Ukraine. The children are currently in Edinburgh, and need daily support. Our SpaceBar webinars support their cause, while our founder, Daniel Smith, is a trustee.

AstroAgency believes the space sector can make a contribution towards net-zero goals. How important is sustainability to the industry?

Becoming more sustainable in space will improve sustainability on Earth. The huge numbers of debris and non-functional objects in orbit threaten to collide with the satellites that underpin our businesses, environmental monitoring, and daily activities. The International Space Station moves regularly to avoid being hit by debris. We cannot continue to treat low-Earth orbit like we have our oceans.

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Rocket companies relying on toxic fuels will become a thing of the past, with innovative companies exploring greener equivalents to power their satellite payloads into orbit. These satellites provide data to monitor the environment and respond to disasters. The journey to space must become greener, infrastructure in orbit must be protected from “junk”, and the insights from satellite data must be utilised.

Opportunities come from this challenge and our work to create the world’s first space sustainability strategy, together with our work to support the UK Space Agency’s sustainability team and companies like ClearSpace, means AstroAgency can address these challenges and opportunities.

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