The first satellite to be produced in Scotland is due for launch next year. And it could be a step towards the development of a whole new industry for Scotland.
UKube-1, commissioned by the UK Space Agency, will be designed and built by Glasgow company Clyde Space at Maryhill. At one time the shipyards of the Clyde launched a quarter of the world's marine tonnage, and now the river's name is linked to a new field of innovation, in space.
UKube-1 itself is small and highly sophisticated. It's a CubeSat, a new type of modular design, based around a unit cube with a side of only 10 centimetres. It is small enough to hold in your hand, but part of the design skill is to pack into that volume a complete package of equipment to enable the satellite to gather data and transmit it down to earth. UKube-1 will consist of three such cubes linked together.
One of Clyde Space's particular areas of expertise is the design of miniature power systems, for which they have around 40% of the global CubeSat market. CubeSats, with their advantages of modularity, are predicted to do for satellites what PCs have done for computing. It's now possible to buy components and assemble them as a kit, and Clyde Space already provide an online credit card purchasing system for items.
UKube-1 will carry four payloads from different universities and organisations. A CubeSat is carried in a lightweight standardised framework and then ejected from it by a mechanism that has been liked to a toaster. The rocket carrying UKube-1 into orbit will be launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, but Craig Clark, chief executive of Clyde Space, emphasises that the opportunity is there for Scotland to push its way into the launching business.
"What I'd really like to see," he says, "is for a Scottish rocketry entrepreneur to provide a launcher – maybe missile-based – so that we can enter the space race from somewhere like Lossiemouth or Leuchars. That would certainly put Scotland on the map and enable further practical use of space, which is one of my dreams."
Already Craig Clark's vision has taken Clyde Space forward to a global position in the CubeSat business. With 22 employees, almost all of them engineers, it's the largest indigenous space company in Scotland. The bulk of its sales are exports – 80% outside the EU and over 95% outside the UK.
And with a growing world demand, he says, the potential of the space technology market for Scotland is huge. Today the sector is generating £20 million a year, but that, he says, is just the start, and he argues that it could expand to £5 billion a year and create 10,000 jobs.
The achievements of the Clyde Space team were marked last year by the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Award for Space Commerce, and Craig Clark himself is an invited member of the UK's Space Leadership Council. In a special video interview made available for us, he and the company's business development manager, Ritchie Logan, described the work and the vision of Clyde Space and showed one of the CubeSats that the company works with.