Scots firm behind pocket-size satellites takes aim at world record after Silicon Valley funding

A Scottish company behind pocket-sized satellites has secured seven-figure Silicon Valley funding as it takes aim at a new world record.

Alba Orbital, which makes PocketQube miniature research satellites, has received a $3.4 million (£2.5m) funding injection from start-up accelerator programme Y Combinator in Silicon Valley.

The programme, which boasts earlier graduates like Airbnb, Stripe and Dropbox, encourages previous alumni to invest in more recent graduates and this has enabled Alba Orbital to gain investors such as Fitbit founder and chief executive James Park.

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The Scottish firm, which launched in 2012, has announced a record-breaking launch campaign of 20 PocketQubes via Rocket Lab & SpaceX launch vehicles in the final quarter of 2021.

Tom Walkinshaw, founder and chief executive of Alba Orbital: 'This a huge milestone for Alba and the Scottish space sector.'

Those upcoming flights are set to break the world record for most PocketQubes deployed in-orbit - a record previously set by the company in December 2019 after its successful maiden launch which deployed six PocketQubes in orbit from New Zealand.

Tom Walkinshaw, founder and chief executive of Alba Orbital, said: “This a huge milestone for Alba and the Scottish space sector.

“Our hard-working team are delighted to have secured the funding, which will help to ensure we are on track to break the world record and beyond.

“Our world record aims later this year will double the number of PocketQubes ever flown to orbit and puts Scotland at the forefront of space access democratisation for nations worldwide.”

The firm’s “pico-satellite cluster” of 20 PocketQubes will launch aboard Rocket Lab and SpaceX launch vehicles as soon as November.

The tiny satellites are small enough to fit in a pocket and can weigh as little as 250 grammes. Alba Orbital produces its own devices in-house at its base in Glasgow and securing the recent funding will ensure the firm’s facility, team and output can grow.

“Alba Cluster X” includes four of these spacecraft: three developed by MyRadar (USA) for weather applications, as well as Alba’s flagship earth imaging pico-satellite designed to monitor artificial light at night.

Satellite imagery of the earth at night can help evaluate the impact of armed conflicts and disasters, assess greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, as well as analyse light pollution and its potential health effects.

Walkinshaw added: “Our Unicorn-2 satellite will capture high resolution imagery of the earth at night. This data is a valuable tool in providing explicit measures of human activity as we can monitor levels of light emission over time.

“Where this can be helpful is spotting new refugee settlements and measuring the impact of armed conflict. For example, by observing the changes in light emission caused by displacement of refugees, we can see where new settlements are located.”

Trade, investment and innovation minister Ivan McKee said: “This is fantastic news for Alba Orbital and the whole space sector in Scotland.

“It once again demonstrates Scotland’s world leading capabilities in providing affordable access to space and the critical role that the sector is playing in the fight against climate change. Space is a focus for global partnership and cooperation - increasingly, Scotland is at the heart of that process.”

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