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Why Scotland is Leading the Way for Satellite Launches in the UK

Scotland benefits from a combination of factors that make it an ideal hub for the UK’s satellite industry.

Some of these are self-made fortune, born from the country’s industrial heritage and ambition to compete in a sector that could be worth as much as £4 billion by 2030.

Not content to merely be the place where they’re built, Scotland could soon be the best place for a satellite launch, not just within the UK, but within Europe and potentially anywhere on the globe.

Here’s why.

Scotland Leading the Way

When it comes to space sector talent, Scotland’s pool is considerable. More than 7,000 jobs have been created north of the border thanks to the thriving space industry, and around £254 million is generated for the Scottish economy  every year.

In Glasgow, more satellites are built than in any other European city, and Scotland manufactures more than any other place outside of California. Here at Bright Ascension, we provided the on-board software, ground software and simulation software for UKube-1, the first satellite built in Scotland in 2014.

More than 80 UK  space industry firms have headquarters located in Scotland, which has already established a reputation in the space industry and is set to become a major global player in its future.

AAC Clyde Space is a particularly big name in small satellites, and a key business operating out of Glasgow. Another Scottish heavyweight space company Skyrora is getting ready to introduce a three-stage rocket for the small satellite launch market.

However, much of Scotland’s strength in the industry isn’t just these big names.

The vast range of smaller companies providing solutions from software (like us) to precision cryogenics means that Scotland’s supply chain is growing into a self-sufficient loop.

Everything needed to build, furnish and, soon, launch a satellite can be done entirely in Scotland.

And investment in the sector is healthy – we secured £1 million in funding in August 2021, and a further £500,000 in January 2022.

With its wide-open spaces free from local sources of light pollution and a diverse pool of talent, Scotland is set to become a true hub of space engineering.

But what about facilitating an actual satellite launch?

From Ground to Orbit

Sutherland is set to be the site of the UK’s first spaceport, accommodating vertical rocket launches.

The benefit of vertical launches is that the rocket can pass through the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere quickly, before making adjustments to its trajectory as necessary.

Further adding to Scotland’s space industry supply chain, this will mean that a satellite can be designed, built, and launched into low orbit entirely within the country’s borders.

The implications for Scotland as a global hub of small satellite development are huge.

The Sutherland spaceport is just the first of the UK’s planned locations for both vertical and assisted launch sites. However, the Sutherland site, as well as a planned Shetland site, will be the first purpose-built sites.

Other plans for the east and south coasts of the UK will make use of existing airports for their assisted, or horizontal, launches.

Why Scotland For the First Spaceport?

There are several advantages to using Sutherland as a vertical launch zone.

Most commercial satellites are launched into low Earth orbit (LEO), assuming they don’t need to maintain a geostationary orbit. Satellites needing a geostationary orbit are best launched from near the Equator in an eastwards direction, where they can make use of the Earth’s highest possible spin rate.

Low Earth orbit or LEO doesn’t need such considerations, since it is known that the satellite with pass us several times a day and this is accounted for. This means that satellites can be launched in a polar orbit – traveling north to south rather than west to east. This makes the UK, and Scotland in particular, a highly attractive location due to the nation’s proximity to the North Pole.

From a location such as the Sutherland spaceport, a satellite can be launched vertically for the most efficient route out of the atmosphere, whilst avoiding risk to population centres. This will be a great boon to UK businesses looking to get small satellites into space, particularly in the case of ‘rideshare’ CubeSats that can carry multiple payloads.

These satellites are empowered with software like our Flight Software Development Kit, that is designed to create limitless combinations of custom-built and ready-made components to produce software packages, tailored precisely to their mission requirements.

Why spend time hunting down resources across the world when the satellite hardware can be built in Glasgow, software – produced in Dundee, and the mission launched from Sutherland?

What Would Spaceports Mean for Scotland?

The commercialisation of space has developed at an astonishing rate and will only continue to accelerate.

With it now possible for civilians to buy their way onto a return flight to space – albeit at prices on the mega rich can afford, for now – private companies are beginning to make their own marks on space technology, which was previously the product of only the resources of national governments.

Countries like India, or the United States have long been associated with space technology, but there is great potential for Scotland to enhance its already-sound reputation and enshrine itself alongside the other big players.

Dundee-Based Bright Ascension for Satellite Software

We’re proud to be part of such an incredible pool of talent, and our software has already helped many a satellite launch, getting them off the ground and carrying out successful missions.

Our Flight Software Development Kit solution for small satellites uses a component-based architecture.

This allows you to take a ‘Lego brick’ approach that means that ready-made library components can be quickly slotted together, and your software can then be easily supplemented with additional capabilities to make it truly unique and fitting for your specific mission.

To find out more about how our software can help your satellite mission, contact us today and book a demonstration.