Digit - Scotland’s Space Journey with AstroAgency Founder Daniel Smith
Scotland is the leader in small rocket and satellite manufacturing, as well as harnessing data from space. Smith discusses the role Scotland is playing on the space stage.
As the world further extends its arms into the stars, the UK wants to be at the forefront of innovation, with Scotland playing a leading role.
The UK Government recently launched a new Space Strategy that sets out plans to boost Britain’s space sector and position it as a global leader in this sphere.
This includes the manufacturing of satellites, establishing rocket launch sites across the UK and the announcement in July of a new ‘Space Command’, aiming to protect the country’s interests and capabilities in space.
Despite the great work being carried out across the country, and the technology already being made in Scotland – parts made here played a major role in the successful landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars last year – many have no idea quite the impact this small nation is having.
That is where Daniel Smith comes in. As founding director of space marketing firm AstroAgency, Smith focused on raising awareness of the benefits of access to space and helping further proliferate the Scottish space sector as part of the wider UK offering.
In an interview with DIGIT, Smith discusses the past, present, and future of the space sector in Scotland, and how AstroAgency fits into the narrative.
Scotland’s booming space sector
Scotland has already established itself as a major contributor to the world of space innovation, particularly through its heritage in deep space missions and its growing role in the commercial ‘newspace’ movement.
There are currently five launch sites being developed, including Prestwick Spaceport and Space Hub Sutherland, and, with two Europe-leading rocket manufacturers now based in the country, there is the potential for full ‘end-to-end’ space capability.
Companies like Edinburgh-based Skyrora have been making waves, through projects such as the static fire of their vehicles, suborbital training launches, plus projects developing fuel from non-recyclable plastics and fighting the continuing problem of space junk.
Additionally, Forres-headquartered Orbex secured around £18 million in December last year to accelerate new UK space projects, as well as their work on the “world’s most environmentally friendly rocket”.
Meanwhile, companies like Spire Global ensure that more small satellites are built in Scotland than anywhere in Europe. And local space data firms like Global Surface Intelligence, Astrosat, Resilience Constellation, Omanos Analytics and Earth Blox are using machine learning, AI, and satellites to fight climate change, identify illegal mining and fishing, and provide a more effective response to natural disasters.
Despite this, Smith says the Scottish space sector is not yet widely recognised as a significant contributor to space technology.
“Put very simply, space has a marketing problem” Smith comments. From his time building ‘newspace’ startups across the UK, he was noticing innovative and exciting space tech projects appearing all over the country.
“I thought, ‘why am I not seeing any of this innovation on the news? Why am I reading the same negative stories every day on mainstream media channels?’
“There are some incredible things happening in a really exciting sector and yet so many people are completely unaware of how space access enhances our daily lives or can offer new insight for businesses or careers paths for young people, despite the fact it’s happening on our doorstep.”
And it is difficult to see why this is the case, particularly with the UK and Scottish Government’s major investments in future space technology development.
The UK Space Agency also announced that, after COP26, that it would be providing just under £7m in government funding to eleven organisations developing satellite projects to fight climate change.
“When people think about space, they think about Cape Canaveral and astronauts, but it is trying to get across this message that Scotland’s focus is small payloads on small launch vehicles from small spaceports, and it’s about getting satellite data to help the environment and provide a range of insights that can support society and our daily lives.”
What is on the horizon?
Britain’s long-term vision, the UK Government says, is to establish itself as an attractive and innovative space economy on the world stage, securing 10% of the global market by 2030.
The UK and Scotland have now released space strategies which aim to boost the sector across Britain and cement the UK as a newspace super-power.
In September, plans for a National Space Strategy were announced aiming to “empower” British space firms to “innovate and grow” by unlocking private finance while helping the UK to become a leader in international space research.
In October, the UK strategy was followed by Scotland’s first space sector strategy. Smith says the aim is to take a more formalised and organised approach to supporting the wider UK space proposition.
In Scotland, Smith adds, the push into innovative space technologies was not a long-term plan from the start, it was something that we “sort of stumbled upon”.
“The strategy is about asking stakeholders across all areas of the sector to help us turn that unplanned strength into a structured success and ensure that both technical and non-technical jobs are created – 20,000 being the aim – as well as helping businesses to move into the sector and give them a new revenue stream during a time where the economy really needs a boost.”
Some of the most important aspects of the strategy, Smith comments, are “its focus on internal and external sectoral collaboration, as well as the importance of encouraging inclusivity and diversity in the sector, educational outreach and its emphasis on a particularly exciting opportunity for Scotland – building a space ecosystem with sustainability at its heart.”
He adds: “Northern Ireland and Wales also have their own space strategies, so it’s an exciting time and very much about mapping out our own journey to boost the wider UK offering.”
Smith also notes that the Scottish Government is very supportive of the sector because they see the benefits and opportunities for the country that the sector brings – whether it be Scottish products being part of supply chains, different sectors benefiting from satellite data or selling our end-to-end offering around the world.
“There are a whole host of supply chain opportunities that the Scottish Government realises can be filled locally to help boost our economy, but they also appreciate that satellite data can enhance businesses in pretty much any sector imaginable by providing information and insight that would be difficult or impossible to receive without access to space.
“The recognition from government that this is a new industry that needs support but has the potential to bring huge benefits to all, is one of the reasons it made sense to write the strategy collaboratively, with input from government, its agencies and also with academia, who provide a backbone for everything the sector has achieved.”
A standalone Scottish space strategy is also a boon for the country in other areas. Not least of all, it signals to others that Scotland is serious about space. This garners attention on the world stage, potentially attracting inward investment and partnerships.
Smith also adds that a strong strategy can inspire the younger generation to become interested in a future space career, as it signals a long-term commitment to developing the industry.
“Nothing inspires like space and there are young people preparing to attend our world-class universities who would love to be in the space sector – we all have a responsibility to ensure they realise it is now a genuine career path,” Smith says.
“I think that’s really important because it helps ensure we have the engineers and scientists coming through that we didn’t have when I was starting out at Skyrora, for example, but it also can alert people to the opportunities in space law, insurance, logistics, construction and, of course, space marketing! And now we’re making sure that people know, they can take this path because Scotland is a space nation.”
However, Smith does admit that, despite Scotland currently being in a strong position, the country cannot do everything alone.
“It is vital that we do have partners across the UK, and even further afield across Europe, because we’ve got to collaborate with countries everywhere. Space is the ultimate global industry.”
He continues: “But there are certain things that we do in Scotland that we quite simply do better than anywhere else in Europe.
“It’s about making sure we are not all doing the same thing and that we are all able to combine our expertise in different areas, contributing to a greater whole that can better serve a sector that is only going to grow.”