Scotland's great opportunity
A new industry is taking shape – and Scotland has the opportunity to play a key role in it.
Space travel – for long the preserve of the big national agencies – is opening up on a commercial basis. Various companies are developing new designs of spacecraft to take people and cargoes into space. The new rocketplanes are more versatile than the massive three-stage rockets whose lift-offs are so familiar: the rocketplanes will use conventional runways.
These developments are coming at an important time for the UK’s satellite manufacturers.
The UK is a world leader in the satellite business, with a particular strength in small satellites. Scottish companies are already to the fore in providing components and systems for satellites, particularly small satellites, and the first Scottish-built satellite is about to be launched.
But the UK has no satellite launch facilities of its own – a striking gap for a country with such a global presence in the satellite sector. UK satellites have to be sent to other countries to piggyback on their launch systems. The UK Government has now targeted as a priority the establishment of a UK spaceport by 2018.
And this is where Scotland comes in. The former RAF airbase at Kinloss is ideally located for polar orbit satellite launch, with northwards nothing but open sea. The base, which until recently handled Nimrod aerial surveillance, has long runways and excellent facilities, with space for development.
Its neighbour, RAF Lossiemouth, has already been spoken of highly for occasional space tourism flights, but satellite launches would need the full-time commitment of resources that is possible at Kinloss.
An operational spaceport would provide the whole of the UK, and indeed European neighbours as well, with a key piece of infrastructure for the aerospace industry.
Aerospace is recognised as a growth area for the UK economy, with a track record of growth and clear potential for the future. Small and innovative Scottish companies have been establishing a presence in the sector and demonstrating their own potential.
Spaceport Scotland is an initiative by people, companies and organisations in the north to stimulate interest in the possible use of a Scottish location for the UK's first operational spaceport.
Such a development would have a huge significance for the economy of Scotland. It's not simply the skilled jobs, the opportunities for hi-tech supplies and services, and the boost for tourism. It's the spreading of the spirit of exploration and adventure that has so often been a driving force in science, technology, business and life.
You can find out here more about what's going on in space and what could happen in Scotland.