Scottish space sector charts path to a sustainable future

A specialist team of experts from the industry-led group Space Scotland is contributing to the development of a sustainable space sector by collaborating on a roadmap that will focus on environmental issues in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.

Collaborating on behalf of the Space Scotland’s Environmental Task Force, AstroAgency and Optimat will work with firms north of the border and abroad and the public sector to develop the latest step in the country’s journey towards a future formalised sustainable space strateg.

The sustainability roadmap for space – a world first – will involve wide-ranging research, consultations with world-leading space sustainability experts and case studies from other sectors for the space industry to learn from. It will highlight priority actions required by industry, academia and government to support wider net zero ambitions and cover a variety of economic, legal and environmental issues to evaluate how access to space can be used to meet current and future global challenges.

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The initiative aims to ensure Scotland’s developing spaceports and launch vehicles minimise their impact on the environment, as well as promoting the environmental and societal benefits that can come from UK-launched small satellites.

A satellite image of space debris.A satellite image of space debris.
A satellite image of space debris.

In addition, the roadmap will highlight the need for low-Earth orbit to be safeguarded alongside the planet’s marine and land environments, while also exploring peripheral space activities that may cause an indirect impact on carbon emissions. Once drafted, the roadmap will be shared among stakeholders for endorsement and approval before being published later this year.

Kristina Tamane, Co-Chair of Space Scotland’s Environmental Task Force and Space Sector Lead at University of Edinburgh, said: “From greener rocket propellants to using satellites to help restore local peatlands and track typhoons, Scottish space companies and universities are making great strides towards enabling a more sustainable future.

"This roadmap is an opportunity to unite these activities and identify where we can collaborate more effectively.” Edinburgh.

The space sector remains one of Scotland’s best kept secrets as firms developed world-class capability in small satellite manufacturing with a cluster of companies in Glasgow producing more small satellites than any other city in Europe.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, hosts the largest centre for informatics in Europe and is home to more than 170 data science companies.

Along Scotland’s rugged edges and in airports such as Prestwick and Macrihanish, spaceports are making great progress toward launching both Scottish-made and international small satellites, many designed with environmental goals in mind.

The applications of satellite data range from monitoring deforestation and illegal mining to helping predict natural disasters such as landslides or the spread of forest fires, with Scottish companies such as Earth Blox, Astrosat, GSI, Omanos Analytics, Ecometrica, Spire Global and Space Intelligence leading the way.

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The rapid growth of the Scottish space activities comes with a requirement to minimise the environmental impact of space activities.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose Holyrood administration is backing the road map, said: "As we build on the sector's strengths we must also focus on sustainability. Space technologies will have an increasingly important role in the fight against climate change, but the sector must continue to reduce its own environmental impact."

The roadmap is set to promote a comprehensive approach to space sustainability that consists of more than reducing emissions, extending to the activities of satellites in orbit. It will contain information on space “junk” and debris mitigation and highlight the effect that satellites have on astronomical observations, with a view to acting as a catalyst for meaningful international action in such areas.

Outlining his commitment, AstroAgency’s Founder Daniel Smith said: “We want to leave no stone unturned. This is an important opportunity for Scotland to lead by example in developing the space sector of tomorrow, both on the ground and in orbit”.

The Space Sustainability and Net Zero Roadmap builds on previous work from Space Scotland including the Sustainable Space Challenges event held in 2021 which engaged representatives from environmental groups, academia, schools, government and the wider public to suggest environmental and sustainability focussed challenges for the fast-growing UK space sector to solve.

AstroAgency is the global leader in space-focused strategic communications and market intelligence, providing innovative organisations with a unique combination of market guidance, public relations, branding, digital marketing, events planning and business development to thrive in the commercial space sector.

Its experts have has decades of combined technical experience working in the space sector and have first-hand experience of the opportunities and the challenges that are unique to space, from launch and operations to harnessing satellite observations.

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