Earlier this month, UKube-1, a satellite built by Glasgow-based technology firm Clyde Space, successfully launched on a test flight from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. It is the first ever spacecraft to be fully assembled in Scotland.
UKube-1 is a cubesat, packing six payloads into a space not much bigger than a shoebox, with scientific experiments including a study of space weather and even a project to let school pupils interact with the satellite. It was commissioned by the UK Space Agency and built by Glasgow company Clyde Space.
The UK Space Agency’s first mission, the first satellite ever designed and built in Scotland, and Clyde Space’s first complete platform, was successfully launched on 8th July 2014, on board a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket the Baikonur cosmodrome.
Baikonur occupies a hallowed place in the history of spaceflight. Sputnik 1, the Earth’s very first artificial satellite, lifted off from there. So did Gagarin, the first ever human to visit outer space. The Soyuz spacecrafts lifted many Soviet space pioneers into orbit way back when Baikonur was still part of the USSR. Its 21st century incarnation continues to combine sturdy reliability with relatively low cost, particularly since the last American Space Shuttle was decommissioned in 2011.
UKube-1 was one of eight large and small satellites aboard for this launch, further underlining the economic arguments for both the cubesat concept and Soyuz.
The basic cubesat concept is a cube ten by ten by ten centimetres. That’s a litre into which, thanks to microelectronics, you can squeeze a lot of science.
The design of UKube-1 is based on three such boxes. It is what they call a 3U cubesat. Three litres of payload.
Clyde Space say this is the most advanced small satellite of its kind in the world and – they hope – the first of many. Because the economics of spaceflight are in their favour.
A cubesat could cost you around $250,000. Not the sort of thing you could buy out of the housekeeping money, but in terms of the satellite business, it is close to peanuts.
Universities, research institutes and – increasingly – businesses are seeing them as affordable options for getting experiments and services into Earth orbit.
The low weight means launch costs are also relatively low.
A low orbit means some other cubesats will burn up on re-entry after just a few years. But it should not cost too much to replace, and that is where Clyde Space foresee a huge growth area.
Clyde Space, Maryhill in Glasgow, Scotland
The headquarters of Clyde Space is up a flight of stairs in a neat, yet unassuming building at Kelvin Science Park in Glasgow’s West End.
The firm has a big share of the market for cubesat components and already has orders for another two complete satellites. It says it is planning to mass-manufacture hundreds or even thousands more.
UKube-1 is the first ever spacecraft to be fully assembled in Scotland. The successful launch of the satellite on 8 July was a landmark occasion and a clear example of the scientific and engineering excellence being demonstrated by Scotland’s entrepreneurial innovators.
Strictly speaking, it is not yet Mission Control Maryhill, but it isn’t all too far removed from it. And this is just part of a burgeoning Scottish space industry which many Scots don’t yet realise exists.
Scotland’s Space Industry is Going Strong
The space sector offers huge economic potential for Scottish companies. Figures from the government show that the space sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK as a whole. The latest data indicates it is now generating around £11.3 billion for the economy every year, and the space industry employs around 35,000 people – an increase of almost 9% on employment figures from 2011.
Turnover has doubled in a year. Staff numbers have increased by 50%.
Ministers are projecting to capitalise on this growth and capture 10% of the global space market by 2030, which could mean the creation of 100,000 additional skilled jobs.
Our world-leading space sector is thriving.
Europe’s Very Own Spaceport by 2018
Indeed the first Scottish satellite is only the beginning. The next step for this nation’s space race is to take a giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018. This would be the first of its kind outside the United States or Russia.
Eight aerodromes have been shortlisted, and Scotland has six potential locations.
The 8 coastal locations that could be used for a spaceport include:
- Campbeltown Airport (Scotland)
- Glasgow Prestwick Airport (Scotland)
- Llanbedr Airport (Wales)
- Newquay Cornwall Airport (England)
- Kinloss Barracks (Scotland)
- RAF Leuchars (Scotland)
- RAF Lossiemouth (Scotland)
- Stornoway Airport (Scotland)
Spaceports will be key to us opening up the final frontier of commercial space travel. The major interest in a spaceport is as a facility to enable satellite launches, but it could potentially be at the centre of new tourism initiatives from specialist operators, such as Virgin Galactic and XCor.
Scotland is currently proving that it has excellent expertise to attract and foster such a specialised and global industry as the space industry. Scotland will be an attractive option for spaceport pioneers.
But, for now…
♫ Satellite’s gone up to the skies… ♫