Scottish space sector charts path to a sustainable future

The Sustainability Roadmap for space will contain information on space junk and debris mitigation

A SPECIALIST working group of the industry-led group Space Scotland is contributing to the development of a sustainable space sector by collaborating on a roadmap that will focus on environmental issues in one of Scotland’s fastest-growing industries. On behalf of the Space Scotland’s Environmental Task Force, AstroAgency and Optimat will work with Scottish companies, international collaborators and the public sector to develop this latest step in the country’s journey towards a future formalised sustainable space strategy and has the full backing of the Scottish Government.

The sustainability roadmap for space – a world first – will involve wide-ranging research, consultations with world-leading space sustainability experts and case studies from other sectors for the space industry to learn from. It will highlight priority actions required by industry, academia and government to support wider net zero ambitions and cover a variety of economic, legal and environmental issues to evaluate how access to space can be used to meet current and future global challenges. It aims to ensure Scotland’s developing spaceports and launch vehicles minimise their impact on the environment, as well as promoting the environmental and societal benefits that can come from UK-launched small satellites.

In addition, the roadmap will highlight the need for low-Earth orbit to be safeguarded alongside the planet’s marine and land environments, while also exploring peripheral space activities that may cause an indirect impact on carbon emissions. Once drafted, the roadmap will be shared with industry-led group Space Scotland and wider sectoral stakeholders for endorsement and approval, before being published later this year.

Kristina Tamane, Co-Chair of Space Scotland’s Environmental Task Force and Space Sector Lead at University of Edinburgh, commented: “From greener rocket propellants to using satellites to help restore local peatlands and track typhoons, Scottish space companies and Universities are making great strides towards enabling a more sustainable future. This roadmap is an opportunity to unite these activities and identify where we can collaborate more effectively.”

The space sector remains one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. In a short time, Scotland has developed world-class capability in small satellite manufacturing, with a cluster of companies in Glasgow producing more small satellites than any other city in Europe. Edinburgh, on the other hand, hosts the largest centre for informatics in Europe and is home to more than 170 data science companies.

Along Scotland’s rugged edges and in airports such as Prestwick and Macrihanish, spaceports are making great progress toward launching both Scottish-made and international small satellites, many designed with environmental goals in mind. The applications of satellite data range from monitoring deforestation and illegal mining to helping predict natural disasters such as landslides or the spread of forest fires, with Scottish companies such as Earth Blox, Astrosat, GSI, Omanos Analytics, Ecometrica, Spire Global and Space Intelligence leading the way.

The rapid growth of the Scottish space activities comes with a concomitant requirement to minimise the environmental impact of space activities. The Scottish Space Strategy published on the international stage at Expo Dubai in October last year identified sustainability as a key theme of Scotland’s approach to space.

“As we build on the sector’s strengths we must also focus on sustainability,” stated First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during the Sustainable Space Summit organised by industry-led group Space Scotland last year. “Space technologies will have an increasingly important role in the fight against climate change, but the sector must continue to reduce its own environmental impact.”

The roadmap is set to promote a comprehensive approach to space sustainability that consists of more than reducing emissions, extending to the activities of satellites in orbit. It will therefore contain information on space “junk” and debris mitigation and highlight the effect that satellites have on astronomical observations, with a view to acting as a catalyst for meaningful international action in such areas.

AstroAgency’s Founder Daniel Smith stated: “We want to leave no stone unturned. This is an important opportunity for Scotland to lead by example in developing the space sector of tomorrow, both on the ground and in orbit”.

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