Shetland Space Centre is a sign that Scotland is in the Space Race – Scotsman comment

Not all that long ago, the idea that Scotland would play a significant part in what can still be called the international ‘Space Race’ would probably have attracted considerable derision.

Hundreds of jobs in the space industry are expected to be created on Shetland
Hundreds of jobs in the space industry are expected to be created on Shetland

However, the announcement that Lockheed Martin is to develop its UK launch operations from the Shetland Space Centre on Unst, is the latest sign that this country is on its way to becoming a significant player in a major industrial sector that is only going to get bigger in the future. It is hoped that the space centre will support a total of 605 jobs in Scotland, including 140 locally and 210 across Shetland, in just four years’ time.

Given that Glasgow already builds more satellites than any other European city and plans are continuing to create another launch site, Space Hub Sutherland, it is clear that Scotland has a real opportunity.

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Nik Smith, UK country executive at Lockheed Martin, the multinational firm was “committed to building on its proud heritage to support the UK government’s role of growing capabilities in space, exciting imagination and advancing the frontiers of science”.

But, however exciting all this is, Scotland has missed economic opportunities before. The failure to develop a major wind energy industry in the 1980s and 1990s left the door open for countries like Denmark to capture the market. The hope is now that Scotland, and the UK, will be able to develop a world-beating offshore wind industry but such grand designs need help from government and a willingness to accommodate the needs of business.

The same will be true of Scotland’s fledgling space industry. If government can help create the right kind of business environment, other large companies and investors could follow in the wake of firms like Lockheed Martin.

If not, then they may decide to set up new operations in other countries which come up with a better overall package, shattering our futuristic dreams.

The current Space Race may not be accompanied by the Cold War tensions of the past but we should be in no doubt that this is a race and Scotland must ensure it remains competitive.

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