Scotland has always been an industrious nation with deep roots in industrial manufacturing. The term “Clyde-built” became synonymous with industrial quality during the shipbuilding boom of the nineteenth century and to this day, Scotland is renowned across the world for its industrial capabilities and aerospace engineering expertise.
Today, Glasgow designs and builds more small satellites than any other city in Europe, yet space innovation is not confined to Scotland’s cities, with Sutherland in the highlands and Machrihanish air base receiving funding in the race to become the UK’s first spaceport.
Thanks to the availability of data, sophisticated interpretation software, and the expertise to apply it, coupled with the space industry moving increasingly from public to private ownership, there are more opportunities for Scotland’s aerospace and satellite companies than ever before.
The sector is already ahead of the curve, selling and exporting its satellites and associated software across the globe and more recently, its satellite data to a variety of industries from finance to construction, giving Scottish companies the edge in international markets.
Scotland’s strong heritage, in highly skilled aerospace engineering combined with its world-leading research capabilities, has created a breeding ground for innovation, such as space engineers from the University of Strathclyde winning multiple awards for its micro-spacecraft project with Glasgow-based Clyde Space.
The company and its technology unsurprisingly generated international interest and in 2017, was acquired by a Swedish space tech company in a deal worth £26m, highlighting a growing trend of international acquisitions in Scotland’s aerospace industry.
This has been recognised by the Department for International Trade (DIT), which estimates the sector could be worth £4 billion by 2030 and has launched a space exports campaign to enhance the position of Scottish companies in the international market, to generate sustainable growth and create a self-sufficient sector.
Strong corporate support is required in such an international marketplace, with the complexities of international trade with large multinational contractors, risks relating to exporting of protected dual use technology and a minefield of regulation and legislation, all acting as a potential barrier for new, innovative technology companies hoping to establish themselves in the market.
Legislation, regulation and trade agreements are still in flux in the space industry, particularly when it comes to companies operating in the ‘New Space’ sector – those developing technology for private space flight.
The Space Industry Act 2018 provides the regulatory framework for the expansion of commercial space activities, but the licensing framework is not fully yet in place, with details to be set by secondary legislation. Not only this, but businesses may also be required to liaise with the Civil Aviation Authority and the local planning authority, as well as adhere to existing health, safety and legal requirements set out by UK Government.
For new businesses without the necessary financial and human resource, this can be overwhelming and could result in an increase in loss of “home-grown” intellectual property and human talent, thus limiting the potential economic benefits for Scotland.
Scotland is a nation of outstanding aerospace expertise and innovation, but it is vital the space industry grows and matures in a sustainable manner, with corporate support available to ensure the industry is not left behind. There’s a wealth of talent in Scotland and there’s no reason we can’t shoot for the moon, nurture home-grown companies to create a Scotland-led space industry.
James Woodward is legal director at Addleshaw Goddard