Space sector: Ministerial statement - 27 April 2023

Statement given to the Scottish Parliament by Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Richard Lochhead on 27 April 2023.

I am delighted to host today’s debate on Scotland’s space sector. It’s a Scottish success story and a sector that is opening up new frontiers, delivering benefits for human beings, our planet and our economy. So I hope this will be the first in a series of debates that shines a light on Scotland’s transformative and growing cutting-edge sectors of the future.

The industrial revolution is the name for a time of great change in industry, technology and science and we’re all familiar with the industrial revolution.

In the 1780’s the life off decade for the industrial revolution, Scotland played a leading role, pathing the way for what came after and for the modern world as well.

I believe this decade is the lift off decade for the further revolutions that are changing our lives and shaping our futures, with rapid advances in technology, we’ve got the net-zero agenda and AI and other issues as well.

Once again, ingenuity, innovation and invention, and our talented people, are allowing our relatively small country to play a leading role.

The space sector is one industry that exemplifies both the pace of change and our country’s leadership.

Now, when people think of space, they may think of

  • NASA and sputnik;
  • the race to put man on the moon;
  • enormous rockets and shuttles putting astronauts into orbit;

But that’s not really any longer the case.

Space has become a fundamental aspect of modern-day life. Providing us with services that help us navigate, stay connected, use our credit card and banking apps anywhere in the world, monitor climate change and predict the weather.

And commercial entities are driving growth, the innovation we need, and competition to satisfy an insatiable requirement for data.

In 2018, there was an estimated 2,000 active satellites in orbit. Today that number is around 5,000. And by 2030, it is forecast to reach 27,000.

The global market for the space sector is projected to grow to £490 billion by 2030. £490 billion.

And this is just the start, going forward there will be a wealth of opportunities that could see science fiction become scientific fact, from space-based energy to asteroid mining and in-orbit manufacturing to name just a few of the visions that people are painting at the moment for what may happen in space.

Indeed asteroid mining may sound farfetched but Members may or may not be aware of Asteroid 16 Psyche, a metallic body that exists within the Main Asteroid Belt.

At one-sixteenth the diameter of Earth’s Moon, it is estimated to contain vast quantities of precious metals, estimated to be worth many times the global economy.

Now our own space sector has grown rapidly in the past ten years. But the Scottish space sector has traditionally had a strong academic base long before that, predominantly focused on earth science here in Edinburgh. And that strong base continues to this day – for instance, Scottish skills and innovation played an important role in the development of the James Webb Telescope.

But it is the more recent miniaturisation and standardisation of spacecraft over the past decade that has supported Scotland’s sector to flourish.

Satellites have gone from the size of double decker buses to that of a shoebox. The cost has dropped from tens of millions to hundreds of thousands of pounds.  And the time to design, build and deploy has reduced from 10 – 20 years to 6 months.

And as I found out during my visits yesterday, Glasgow is at the heart of this transformation – growing from two people in a room to numerous companies, employing hundreds of high skilled satellite engineers, and now building more small satellites than any other place outside of California.

So there I was by the Clyde yesterday, the Clyde, famous for building the world’s ocean going vessels but holding in my hand the small space vessels that are now being built in the 21st century and today supporting human kind and protecting our planet.

These satellites are now tracking global aviation shipping, forecasting weather and helping prevent for instance forest fires in the Amazon.

However, satellites are only valuable in so much as they can provide the right data at the right time to support more effective decision making.

And in Scotland we also have expertise in data gathering and analysis - Scotland is the data driven capital of Europe, with Edinburgh hosting the largest centre for informatics in Europe and having more than 170 data science companies.

We also have a number of excellent downstream data companies that are monitoring the Earth’s forests and crops, making peer to peer trading fairer and easier, and delivering precise positioning services on a global scale to an accuracy of less than 5 centimetres that will in turn aid autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture and the Internet of Things as well.

So these capabilities are providing a wealth of opportunities, but what will set Scotland apart is the full end-to-end value chain – a ‘one stop shop’ for small satellites.

This end-to-end capability is so important to Scotland’s advantages because it will support our ambition to become a leading space nation in Europe, capture a £4 billion share of the global market up to 20,000 jobs over the next ten years.

Now launch is the final gap, and that gap will soon be closed.

Our vertical spaceports, in the Shetland Isles, in Sutherland are due to commence operations shortly.

And these will be followed by suborbital activity in the Western Isles, and horizontal launches from Prestwick, supported through the Islands and Ayrshire Growth Deals. Significant investments in those areas.

Our spaceports are attracting international customers from Europe and the US, but we also have domestic companies developing their own launch vehicles.

Skyrora are planning to launch their XL vehicle from Saxa Vord which will also play host to the UK’s pathfinder launch from Lockheed Martin. 

Whilst Orbex, from my own constituency in Moray, will launch their Prime vehicle from Sutherland having completed their latest funding round for £40.4 million, led by a £17.8 million investment from the Scottish National Investment Bank. So they are now ramping up recruitment toward their first launch with around 100 people now employed across 3 buildings they have.

I attended the Orbex vehicle unveiling last year, an absolutely awesome spectacle. And I am looking forward to visiting the team again in the coming days.

It is not just the economic prize however that makes space such a key opportunity.

It’s the role in the global fight against climate change which is also equally as important as the economic contribution. Data and imagery from satellites is critical to monitoring changes in our planet.

And again, here, is another area where Scotland is genuinely world leading.

The industry is very sensitive to that global conversation about climate change and its own role within that – both as a force for good via climate monitoring and in mitigating its own environmental impact as well, through manufacturing processes, launch and end of life.   

So sustainability is at the heart of the Scottish space sector; a key area of our Strategy. And last year we launched the world’s first Sustainable Space Roadmap to encourage responsible growth and set us on the path to becoming the greenest space sector in the whole of the world.

The world has taken notice, and they want to learn from Scotland about embedding sustainability in industry.

The whole Scottish space community are already taking action to reduce their carbon footprint and support the transition to net zero.

Our launch manufacturers are using lightweight materials, innovative designs, and fuels to develop green launch vehicles.

And we launched an innovation challenge fund to help Scottish businesses develop innovative space-based solutions that can support the Net Zero transition.

We can also develop the solutions to the problems of other nations as well, and we have already built up strong international interest included organising a dedicated mission, which took place to promote the Scottish sector.

Space is by its nature a global sector. That means significant opportunities but also strong competition.

International positioning and marketing are essential to maintain existing progress and support further growth.

Mangata, and Spire before them, chose Scotland to base their satellite manufacturing and operations – so that is clear evidence that our approach in Scotland is working.

And our ability to understand, support and effectively engage in the international arena is further boosted by the formation of the Scotland International Space Advisory Committee (SISAC).

This voluntary group co-chaired by Joanna Peters and Dr David Alexander, brings a wealth of expertise and connections across the globe that we want to use to tell the world about the space sector in Scotland.

The sector is as we’ve heard facing skills challenges like many other sectors across the economy.

But it is important to recognised the value of the jobs we do have because space is high-value, with GVA per employee estimated at £144,000 – that’s 2.5 times the UK’s average labour productivity.

It has the power to inspire and excite like few others as well. It is an attractive destination for international workers with the right skillsets.

So we have to utilise that to build a strong pipeline of talent; an inclusive sector that is accessible for everyone. And these are issues the sector is taking very seriously.

But we already have a thriving space ecosystem employing more than 8,500 people.

The recent publication on the UK Space Industry reaffirms Scotland is “punching above its weight” in terms of performance, with almost one fifth of all UK space sector jobs being based here.

And it recognises strong growth in our company base and annual income. The sector has also seen very impressive growth of 12% year-on-year and we expect that to continue.

So all that has been achieved and all that we hope to achieve is only possible going forward  with strong partnership between industry, academia and government.

That is exactly what we have with Space Scotland and the Scottish Space Academic Forum as well.

Industry, academia and government working in partnership to achieve our collective ambition for Scotland to become a leading space nation through the provision of the full end-to-end value chain for small satellites is a very important part of our strategy.

The combination of the full end-to-end provision for small satellites, with sustainability at its core, and the strong partnership between industry, academia and government will put the Scottish space sector in a genuinely world leading position.

Scotland was famously at the heart of the first industrial revolution as I said and now in this pivotal decade, we are again shaping the future.

The future for space, as one of Scotland’s transformative and cutting-edge sectors, is really, really exciting.

We’ve left the launch pad, we’re heading for the stars and new frontiers and I commend the sector for all it’s achieving.

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