Scotland has a rich history of manufacturing and engineering, with Glasgow once famed as the ‘Second City of the Empire’ due to its ship building industry.
While the city’s glory days in this regard may have passed, Glasgow, and the nation as a whole, is turning its gaze from the oceans toward the skies.
With a vibrant digital technology sector and an abundance of academic institutions in Scotland, the country could play a crucial role in the future of the global space industry.
It won’t be the first time Scotland has punched above its weight on a global scale, but to do so will require investment, collaboration and, crucially, pioneering minds and companies to lead the charge.
DIGIT has outlined some of the most innovative companies operating in Scotland’s thriving space sector.
Headquartered in Edinburgh, Skyrora specialises in the development of launch vehicle technology, which aims to reduce the financial and resource costs of space launches.
In 2020, Skyrora orchestrated a full static fire test of their Skylark L vehicle and launched Skylark Micro from Iceland. In addition, they also launched their Skylark Nano III rocket from the Shetland Islands, an historical first.
That is far from the company’s only foray into sustainability. To combat space junk, Skyrora has developed its own ‘space tug’, which will clean up unused or broken satellites in the Earth’s atmosphere, ensuring our orbit is free from debris.
Skyrora has also developed its own, award-winning, environmentally friendly fuel using waste plastics that otherwise would be disposed of in landfill or in oceans into a greener, more socially-responsible fuel source known as Ecosene.
As well as the fuel emitting around 45% less greenhouse gas, it is particularly suited to cope with the potential weather problems or delays that could affect proposed rocket launches in the UK, as it does not require cryogenic freezing and can stand in a tank for long periods of time.
Skyrora also played a pivotal role in returning an iconic piece of aerospace history to the UK in 2019 when it recovered the Black Arrow rocket; the UK’s first and only rocket to reach orbit.
Want to find out more? Find Skyrora here.
AAC Clyde Space
Glasgow-based firm AAC Clyde Space has cultivated a reputation as a world-leading developer and supplier of CubeSats (miniaturised satellites) and small satellite systems.
Glasgow was once renowned as the ‘shipyard of the empire’, but AAC Clyde Space is helping to forge a new era of manufacturing in the Glasgow area.
Founded in 2005 by Craig Clark, the firm has gone on to supply subsystems for missions across the world and launched Scotland’s first ever satellite, UKube-1 in 2014.
In January 2018, AAC Clyde Space was acquired by a Swedish commercial space firm AAC Microtec in a deal worth £26 million. The company works alongside a host of international organisations, with clients including NASA, the US Air Force and the UK Space Agency.
Last year they also embarked on xSPANCION, a three-year project with the European Space Agency. The project aims to develop an ‘innovative satellite constellation service’, and will include the manufacturing of ten spacecraft.
In August, the company founded AAC Space Africa to capitalise on the rapidly growing market for satellites and space services in Africa.
Want to find out more? Find Clyde Space here.
Another Glasgow-based addition, Alba Orbital, focuses on getting people to build and launch their own satellites.
The company, founded by entrepreneur Tom Walkinshaw, provides parts and support for companies building their own PocketQube class satellites.
These lightweight, miniaturised satellites are ideal for space research, and usually have a size of around 5cm cubed, which is around one-eighth the volume of a CubeSat.
Alba Orbital works alongside a host of companies, academic institutions and government organisations around the world, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and SkyFox Labs. It was with the ESA that Alba Orbital developed its advanced 3p PocketQube platform, known as Unicorn-2.
In April 2021, Alba Orbital became the first Scottish company to take investment from Y Combinator, who are a top global investor in startups. This funding will develop their project to use the satellites they have developed to image everywhere on Earth, every 15 minutes.
Want to find out more? Find Alba Orbital here.
The Edinburgh-based company leverages a litany of satellites to provide information on land cover, analyse habitats as well as above ground carbon storage across the world.
The team at Space Intelligence uses Earth Observation (satellite and drone) data to innovatively map and monitor Earth’s changing tropical forests and peat swamps.
They create this information by applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to big data from these satellites.
In April of this year, they produced the country’s first-ever Scotland-wide high resolution habitat maps, for free, funded by the Scottish government.
Their mapping techniques have seen them undertake work across the world, with projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas. They also conducted landscape analysis for the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Want to find out more? Find Space Intelligence here.
Glasgow-based startup R3-IoT’s Alan Cannon (CEO) and Kevin Quillien (CTO) are no strangers to space technology. Indeed, they both began forming the idea for what would become R3-IoT in 2018 while working for AAC Clyde Space, a company specialising in the delivery of nano-satellite spacecraft. While there, Cannon worked as Head of Missions and Quillien as Head of Spacecraft Design.
Unlike many space technology companies launching satellites into orbit, Cannon and Quillien are taking a different approach with R3-IoT. Instead, their focus is on connecting the value of new, emerging digital and IoT technologies with space technology already in orbit.
Their technology wirelessly connects smart devices such as sensors, automatically transmitting data via the cloud to an intuitive insights platform. This then provides information that can inform, automate and advance operations for customers in key industries worldwide.
R3-Iot has developed a full-stack platform – combining satellite, cellular, IoT, analytics and cybersecurity – which provides organisations with end-to-end data services from any location.
They can remotely monitor, control and improve operations anywhere in the world regardless of existing infrastructure.
Want to find out more? Find R3-IoT here.