Sam Gyimah: Scotland can boldly go in new space race

Scotland punches well above its weight in science and innovation. As the UK Minister responsible for these areas, I want Scotland to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Scotland is in the running to host the first UK spaceport, although the spaceships are unlikely to be as impressive as those seen on Star Trek

Scottish innovators can claim credit for inventing everything from penicillin to the rainmac. These discoveries have changed the world and, as we look to the future, I want Scotland to lead the race for the next game-changing discovery.

Today marks the official opening of the Higgs Centre for Innovation in the heart of Edinburgh. It will be part of the hugely successful UK Astronomy Technology Centre that has created many of the world’s major telescopes, and whose world-leading scientists have been instrumental in answering questions around the origins of planets and galaxies.

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The new centre will offer start-up businesses direct access to experts in space technology and big data. Up to 12 companies will be based in the Centre which will be home to state of the art facilities such as laboratories, working spaces and a Business Incubation Centre.

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Space technology supports a massive £250 billion of wider business activity across the UK – from telecommunications to meteorology. The space sector in Scotland is rapidly growing, and Glasgow is now building more satellites than any other European city. Scotland is also in the race to host the first UK spaceport that will give us the potential to launch satellites into space. The new space port could launch satellites which will have the ability to monitor anything from climate change to the spread of tropical diseases. And it will create high-skilled jobs in the city. There is so much potential in big data and space technology, and the government is committed to furthering our expertise in these sectors. In April we published the Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal, a joint plan by government and businesses to invest almost £1 billion together, making clear our ambitions to create an economy that seizes the opportunities of AI and big data.

As part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we’re committed to increase the amount of R&D done in the UK from 1.7 per cent of GDP today to 2.4 per cent in 2027. We want to become the most innovative economy in the world and be the best place to start and grow a business, and new facilities like the Higgs Centre will help us achieve this.

The recent establishment of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will help deliver excellent research in all four nations and help make sure this research brings real world benefits. It will also be responsible for our Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, a £1.7 billion investment over four years in technologies that will transform existing industries whilst creating new ones.

UKRI is already tapping into the expertise based in Scotland. Only last month we announced a ground-breaking research programme with the US to investigate the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, and what impact its ice loss will have on global sea levels with the UK lead for one of the projects based at Scotland’s own St Andrews University.

Supporting innovation excellence across Scotland and the rest of the UK is central to our Industrial Strategy. The soon-to-launch Strength in Places Fund will see investment which can help local areas grow their economy across Scotland, and I look forward to seeing how much of a fundamental role science and innovation will play in Scotland, building a Britain truly fit for the future.

Sam Gyimah is the UK’s universities and science minister