Scotland is a nation of pioneers who have always explored new frontiers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Now the announcement of the UK’s first spaceport on Scotland’s north coast opens up the potential for business breakthroughs almost as limitless as space itself.
Our burgeoning space sector already punches above its weight. We have world-leading companies with entrepreneurial mindsets and ambition, such as Clyde Space, Star Dundee and Alba Orbital, which have turned Scotland into a powerhouse of satellite technology and manufacturing – Glasgow, for example, produces more satellites than any other European city.
Having our own spaceport infrastructure will provide increased research, testing and development opportunities for these and other companies. We’ll also be less reliant on the space agencies of other nations to launch our satellites into orbit and it’ll open up increased potential for partnerships with innovation-driven space organisations around the world.
Scotland could be the first to launch satellites from mainland Europe, which would be a source of national pride and would demonstrate to the world that Scotland is still a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs and open for business.
We must be prepared for business in space and this needs collaboration between enterprise and government. Working towards a STEM-focused education system will ensure the next generation are qualified, inspired and ambitious to realise the potential of space.
The growth of Scotland’s space sector is underpinned by a strong and developing base of academic expertise. We have some of the finest academic institutions in the world and partnerships like those between the University of the West of Scotland and the International Space School Education Trust have already meant that students have had research projects completed in space by astronauts. There is no reason why our universities can’t be world-leaders in space-based research.
Increase backing for business support organisations could prove vital in helping pre-start and early-stage enterprises recognise and capitalise on new global business opportunities and those in space. Scottish Enterprise has strategies in place to boost Scotland’s aerospace industry to a £4 billion industry by 2030 and organisations like Elevator provide invaluable support, guidance networking and collaboration opportunities to ensure entrepreneurs are as prepared as possible for launching high-growth potential businesses.
Government should also be more dynamic in helping entrepreneurs advance into space. Even the likes of Elon Musk – founder of SpaceX – was given a near £500 million loan from the US government to get Tesla off the ground, so those that can support, should support.
A return to the Moon and the idea of a colony on Mars should be left to the likes of Nasa and SpaceX. Scotland should instead focus its attention on the opportunities of near-Earth business. In years gone by, Scotland built ships on the Clyde that took us around the world. We should be looking now to build rocket ships to lift us off the world. Alternatively, raw materials on Earth are becoming increasingly scarce, and mining can be incredibly damaging to our environment. There are, however, huge deposits of gold, platinum, aluminium and more on asteroids and these could be exploited from the mid-2020s. Scotland has decades of experience and development in drilling in the hazardous environment of the North Sea. That same engineering excellence and experience could be applied to asteroid mining. This is no longer in the realms of science fiction.
Scotland accounts for 18 per cent of all UK space industry jobs but given the right mix of government-backed support and the increased nurturing of homegrown entrepreneurial talent, we could see exponential growth of our space sector. Communities, individuals and enterprises across the nation can all benefit from our combined step into space. If ambitious entrepreneurs are given the right encouragement and support, they can boldly go where no one has gone before.
Andy Campbell is a manager at Elevator, which works across Scotland to help new and existing businesses by providing expert business advice