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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 14, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 14 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Longhope Lifeboat Disaster (50th Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Further and Higher Education), Space Nation, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction


Space Nation

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16312, in the name of Ivan McKee, on building on Scotland’s strengths in technology and engineering to become Europe’s leading space nation. I invite all members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button as soon as possible.


The Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation (Ivan McKee)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about space, the importance of the space sector in Scotland to our economy and the focus that the Scottish Government places on the development of the sector.

These are exciting times for the space industry in Scotland. The sector’s rapid global growth offers huge opportunities, which Scotland is well placed to take advantage of.

Scotland already has an innovative and diverse engineering base, with world-class companies competing in international markets. We have excellence in data science and application and we already punch above our weight in the space sector. We are in a great place to consolidate those existing strengths.

Over two years, we have seen a 27 per cent increase in the number of space organisations in Scotland to more than 130, with a total income of £140 million. They include the headquarters of 83 United Kingdom space industry firms. Nearly a fifth of all UK space jobs are in Scotland—more than double our population share.

On their way into the Parliament building today, people may have seen the Black Arrow rocket parked outside—if they did not, I recommend that they go to have a look. Black Arrow’s third flight was the first, and only, successful UK-led orbital launch. It placed the Prospero satellite into orbit from a launch site in Australia in 1971—the only British satellite to be put into orbit using a British launch vehicle. Prospero is still in orbit, although it is no longer in communication with planet earth. Some may say that it shares that characteristic with some of those currently responsible for the future of the UK’s place in Europe; I could not possibly comment.

At a time when Scotland aims to be the first place in Europe capable of launching small satellites into orbit, it seems fitting that the Black Arrow is now here in Edinburgh, and I congratulate Skyrora—one of Scotland’s rocket manufacturing businesses—on successfully bringing it back to the UK.

When we talk of space, we may think of the massive rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, but the modern space industry comprises much more than space rockets—exciting though they are. We have opportunities in upstream space manufacturing and space operations, including small satellite manufacture, as well as opportunities for companies dealing with downstream space data and data applications.

Looking ahead, we see longer-term potential opportunities emerging, such as energy provision through solar panels in space, asteroid prospecting for minerals, together with the associated supporting habitat facilities, and low-gravity manufacturing in space. Not so long ago, that would all have been considered science fiction, but it is rapidly becoming science fact.

Scotland is proud to be the home of agile space, a versatile and adaptable sector that involves close collaboration between Government, industry and academia. Our culture of open innovation and collaboration is essential for our continuing success.

We have a supportive business environment, with the developing national manufacturing institute for Scotland, real academic strengths, a range of practical support and advice available via our enterprise agencies, and a strong partnership with the sector through the industry-led Scottish space leadership council.

The NMIS will be an industry-led international centre of expertise in manufacturing, which will make Scotland a global leader, with academia, industry and the public sector working together to transform manufacturing skills, productivity and innovation right across Scotland.

Our excellent higher education sector is at the forefront of this technology. Glasgow, Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Dundee universities all have major strengths in the space sector. Edinburgh’s Higgs centre for innovation, which is located at the Royal Observatory, provides a business incubation centre as well as space testing and development facilities. I was at the centre earlier this year, and I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Scotland is very much open for business, and our enterprise agencies will continue to work with any company with a viable proposal that is seeking to develop a future in our successful space sector.

Scotland is already a world leader in small satellite manufacture and we have businesses that analyse and use the valuable data that is beamed back from orbit. The missing link is the ability to launch satellites. Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand orbits with vertical rockets, and there is a real opportunity to capture a share of the growing market for launching an estimated 2,000 small satellites by 2030.

With more small satellites being built in the city of Glasgow than in any other place in Europe, affordable and efficient access to space is key to growing our fast-developing small satellite industry. Clyde Space is recognised as a world-class innovator and supplier of small satellite systems. Spire Global, the first company in the UK and Europe to provide an end-to-end CubeSat development and data service offering, and Alba Orbital, which is building and launching some of the world’s most advanced picosatellites for earth observation and telecoms purposes, are also based in Glasgow.

Our ambition is to have at least one spaceport in Scotland. Having satellite launch facilities will help us to deliver strong economic benefits and is expected to open up a wide range of market opportunities for Scotland. With launch capability, we can then build, launch and operate satellites, all from Scotland—supporting the ambition to grow the sector here into a £4 billion industry by 2030.

The UK Space Agency’s decision to support the development of space hub Sutherland is key to meeting those aspirations, although, as members will well understand, that is not the only potential spaceport that is being considered. A total funding package of £17.3 million will be invested in the site. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is working hard to deliver on that ambition in partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Orbex. As the market for small satellites continues to grow, so will the demand for launch facilities, and sites in the Western Isles, the Shetland Islands and at Prestwick are all interested in developing space-related launch activities.

On Friday, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity signed the heads of terms for the Ayrshire growth deal, which includes support for an aerospace and space programme that will benefit from up to £30 million of Scottish Government investment. Through the involvement of partners, that will increase to total investment of up to £80 million.

The aerospace and space sector employs more than 4,000 people in Ayrshire, and we have ambitious plans to help to double that.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

What assessment have the minister and the Government made of the Machrihanish airstrip in Campbeltown? The minister will know that, during the second world war, it was the largest airstrip in Europe, and it has great facilities.

Ivan McKee

As I said, the Scottish Government and its agencies are very keen to hear from any business or other opportunity that would help to grow and further develop the Scottish space sector. I would be interested in discussing that option further. I know that work has been done on a range of opportunities for launch sites, and I believe that the Machrihanish site was included in earlier reports. I would be willing to talk to the member about that.

I return to the situation in Ayrshire. Investment secured through the Ayrshire growth deal will deliver spaceport infrastructure to support the ambition of establishing a horizontal launch facility at Prestwick airport, which will include commercial space and transport infrastructure. That investment will also support the creation of an aerospace and space innovation centre, which will be a central hub for encouraging growth and supporting aerospace and space businesses in Scotland and the UK.

The development of launch facilities will open the door to a range of new business opportunities. We already know that Orbex is to open its new rocket-manufacturing facilities in Forres. I was delighted to be at the formal opening of its launch-vehicle development and manufacturing facility last month, to hear about its plans to employ around 150 people on the site, and to see the Prime rocket, which is an impressive piece of engineering with a carbon-fibre structure and a 3D-printed engine that runs on low-emission fuel. Other rocket research and manufacturing businesses are already based in Scotland, including Skyrora, which I mentioned earlier; I thank it for bringing the Black Arrow back to Scotland. The Shetland Space Centre is also developing proposals for ground-station satellite tracking facilities, which could support launch facilities.

As we know, Scotland is the data-driven capital of Europe—it hosts the largest centre for informatics in Europe and has more than 170 data science companies. The downstream use of space data is supporting a diverse and growing range of services: Bird.i, which is based in Glasgow, uses space-derived intelligence to monitor global construction; Trade in Space, which is also based in Glasgow, is developing new financial services with data that has been collected by satellites, thereby making peer-to-peer trading fairer and easier; Ecometrica, Global Surface Intelligence and Carbomap, which are all based in Edinburgh, and others are monitoring the earth’s forests and crops and tracking the impact of climate change; Astrosat, which is based in Musselburgh, is helping people to understand the planet while aiding disaster response; and the Scottish centre of excellence in satellite applications—SOXSA—at the University of Strathclyde is helping to develop smart, connected fish farms.

There are still challenges ahead. As with every sector, the industry is concerned about the potential impact of the UK’s exit from the EU. Companies are particularly concerned about the potential for a research funding gap to emerge. Any agreement with the EU on science and innovation will need to reflect priorities and strengths across the UK, including in Scotland, and we fully expect the UK Government to engage effectively with us on that.

A challenge for our ambition to start the launching of small satellites in 2021 is the need for launch operating companies and launch sites to have operating licences. The UK Government has said that the required secondary legislation should be in place by the end of 2020-21 and has confirmed that any site that can meet the safety and regulatory aspects of spaceflight would be eligible to apply for a licence to establish a spaceport.

Our ambitious plans for the space sector need strong leadership to succeed—political leadership, public sector leadership and business leadership. We are working in partnership with the Scottish space leadership council, which includes representatives from all parts of the space sector, from potential launch sites to satellite manufacturers, businesses engaged in data analysis and academic partners. Together, we will deliver on the aspiration to grow the Scottish space sector into a £4 billion industry by 2030 and we will seize the opportunity to make Scotland Europe’s leading space nation.

The Government will support the Conservative and Labour amendments. We will not support the Liberal Democrat amendment, not because we are opposed to enterprise zones or their application in this sector, but because we await a review from Scottish Enterprise into their effectiveness, which will inform our future decisions.

I move,

“That the Parliament welcomes the rapid growth of the Scottish space sector; notes that it now accounts for 18% of all jobs in the UK space industry; encourages investment in support of the ambition to deliver a full end-to-end space sector capability in Scotland, to build, launch and operate satellites; agrees that now is the time to take advantage of the strengths that Scotland has in technology, engineering and data science to realise this ambition; further agrees that Scotland’s clear strengths in small satellite manufacturing and space data are starting points for success, laying the foundations for Scotland to become Europe’s leading space nation, and considers that this success will be enhanced by Scotland’s plan to become the site of the first spaceport in Europe.”


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The Scottish Conservatives welcome today’s debate on the Scottish space sector. We believe that Scotland is in a unique position to become Europe’s leading commercial space nation, so grasping the opportunity should unite all MSPs across the chamber.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome the funding from the UK Government that is boosting Scotland’s space industry and ensuring that Scotland is a world leader in research and development.

We also support the partnership of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the UK Space Agency to deliver the first spaceport in the UK. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I am delighted that Sutherland could lead the way as the location of the UK’s first spaceport. I am also delighted that I am opening for my party today, because it means that I will be able to make the case for Sutherland before John Scott makes the case for Prestwick and Tavish Scott builds on the article that he wrote for the papers today about the suitability of Shetland. We are under no illusions—all the sites have merits and all the sites could deliver for Scotland.

Joking aside, I say that the simple truth is that every MSP would like to see their constituency or region reaping the benefits of the space industry and all that it offers. I firmly believe that every region, as I have said, has something to offer. That should be celebrated by everyone.

My initial position is to support the Highlands and Islands, which brings me conflict over whether to support the spaceport in Sutherland, or Tavish Scott’s recommendation for Shetland. I do not believe that the answer should be either/or: there are opportunities not only for the vertical launch spaceports that we have heard about but for the horizontal launch spaceports that we will hear about.

In Scotland, we are capable not only of launching rockets—we can build them, too. In fact, Scotland builds

“more spacecraft than anywhere outside California”

That is something to be proud of; it is a remarkable success story for Scottish manufacturing. Scotland is leading the European space race, because we can not only design, build and operate spacecraft, but we will now be able to launch them, too. I believe that the UK has the right business environment and the right industrial capability, and that it is blessed with the right geography to succeed.

As my amendment sets out, it is important to recognise that the success is underpinned by a UK Government that is making the right choices in supporting the space industry. First, the UK Government’s Space Industry Act 2018 allows commercial operators to launch flights into orbit, with payloads that can include satellites and scientific experiments. Secondly, the UK Government's industrial strategy includes support for a £50 million programme, known as LaunchUK, to support small satellite launches and suborbital flights.

Taken together, the Space Industry Act and the UK industrial strategy make Scotland the best place in Europe to start and to grow a space business. The economic potential is huge, as we have heard, so I want to mention that a bit more. Commercial small-satellite launches could be worth up to £4 billion to the UK economy over the next decade, and would contribute to the UK Government’s aim of growing our share of the global market to 10 per cent by 2030.

Choosing Sutherland as the site for Scotland’s first spaceport must be just the start. I hope that members will excuse the play on words—there are only two in this speech. Although that might be “one small step” for the LaunchUK programme, it could be “one giant leap” for the Highlands economy.

Lockheed Martin UK and Orbex have already signed memorandums of understanding that say that they can use the launch site, and it is anticipated that there could be up to six launches per year. It is expected that a spaceport in Sutherland would create about 40 highly skilled jobs in the area, and HIE estimates that that figure could multiply to 400 jobs by 2023. The spaceport would have a really positive impact that would spread across the wider region. We already know that Orbex is looking to base its mission control and design hub in Forres in Moray. That is important.

Such crucial investment in Sutherland and across the Highlands could not come at a better time for the region. There is a real need in the area for high-skilled jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the growth of the space industry has the potential to soften the negative impact of the site at Dounreay being decommissioned.

That brings me to my final point. It is vital that investment in the space industry be made to work for local communities. It is fair to say that the plans for the Sutherland spaceport have divided opinion in the communities of Melness and Tongue. The appropriate channel through which to support or oppose any development is the local planning system. I have always been clear that planning decisions should be made locally, and that they should be honoured by the Government. I believe that the communities will see the benefit of having a spaceport, because the space industry is a lucrative business. The growth of the industry could work not only for communities in the Highlands, but across Scotland.

Presiding Officer, I hope that you will excuse my second play on words.

“To infinity and beyond!” That is the prize that is within touching distance for Scotland and the rest of the UK. We are leading the way in cutting-edge commercial space technology, and the opportunity exists to launch an estimated 2,000 satellites by 2030. By making the right choices now, we will give Scottish businesses a head start in the European space race.

The Conservatives will support the Labour amendment, but we are slightly concerned by the Liberal Democrat amendment. We look forward to a full explanation of the “enterprise zones” that are referenced.

Scotland is well placed in the space race: it is a race that we can win. I hope that all members across the chamber will join me in supporting that effort.

I move amendment S5M-16312.2, to insert at end:

“; and welcomes both the Space Industry Act 2018 and the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, which includes support for a £50 million programme to support small satellite launches and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports.”


David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s initiative to debate the Scottish space sector. With perfect timing, we are doing so during British science week. I am sure that that was well planned. Labour will support the motion in the name of Ivan McKee.

On 9 July 1962, a Thor-Delta rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. On board was the United Kingdom’s Ariel 1 satellite, which not only made the UK the third country, after the USA and the Soviet Union, to operate a satellite, but it launched the UK’s space industry. That industry has developed to the point at which, in 2014, it contributed £11.8 billion to the British economy and supported 35,000 jobs, according to UK Government figures.

Just as it was a satellite that began the UK space industry, so it is satellites that will allow the UK Government to secure its ambition of a space industry that will be worth, as we have heard, £40 billion by 2030. That would represent a 10 per cent share of the global space industry market.

The first step towards that goal was the UK Government’s announcement that it intends to develop a single site as the UK’s spaceport. In July 2014, a shortlist of potential sites was announced, with the view being that the chosen site would be up and running by 2018. The original shortlist of eight was reduced to five, which included three sites in Scotland: Prestwick, Campbeltown and the Western Isles. In May 2016, the Department for Transport wrote to the spaceport bidders to inform them of its decision to end the bidding process and to move towards a licensing model.

In previous debates, I supported the case for selecting Campbeltown airport as a horizontal take-off spaceport, but I also recognised the great strengths of the other locations—in Prestwick, Shetland, the Western Isles and Sutherland. In the three years since my members’ business debate on spaceports, there have been substantial developments—for example, the UK Space Agency announced financial support last summer for a HIE-backed scheme to launch satellites from Melness crofters estate in Sutherland. As we have heard, HIE’s board has approved £17.3 million to support that project. That includes £2.5 million from the UKSA, nearly £10 million from HIE and £5 million that is being sought from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The HIE board approval depends on identification and delivery of local community benefits.

Space hub Sutherland would be a vertical take-off site and, as we have heard, it would aim for six launches annually, with the first in 2020. David Oxley, who is an HIE director, has stated that the jobs target is 400, with the aim of sending 2,000 small satellites into orbit by 2030.

As the minister said, start-up firm Orbex has opened a base in Forres, with the promise of 40 jobs this year and plans to expand to 150. Professor Malcolm Macdonald, who is the director of the Scottish centre of excellence in satellite applications and a UKSA board member, has said:

“we build more spacecraft than anywhere outside California, we have more frequent access to space than anywhere ... in the world, and we’re almost certainly going to have the first spaceport in Europe.”

In effect, there is a gap in the market. In Scotland, we design, build and operate spacecraft, and we can exploit the data that comes from them. The gap is in the ability to launch, so a spaceport would solve that problem.

At the most recent meeting of the cross-party group on aviation, which I chaired, Lockheed Martin raised some key issues for the future. For example, will the UK Government provide a liability cap for launch activities? That might become clearer following publication of the secondary legislation that is linked to the Space Industry Act 2018. The other key issue is the commercial viability of the first European small-satellite launch-on-demand service. There is intense competition across Europe on that, so it is crucial that the UK get there first, because the prize is immense.

Oxford Economics carried out an economic impact assessment that said that UK satellite launch capability would add £2.5 billion to gross domestic product and sustain 375 jobs. The largest amount of gross value added—63 per cent—would be in Scotland, because we would house the launch site. Scotland in general, and the Highlands and Islands in particular, have a comparative advantage on location. Scotland provides access to sun-synchronous and polar orbits—low-altitude orbits—which are both well suited to a wide range of commercial and other satellite applications.

It is vital that Scotland does not miss this important opportunity. Throughout history, Scottish scientists and engineers have been in the vanguard of innovation and discovery—from James Watt, who was the godfather of the industrial revolution, to Robert Watson-Watt, who invented radar, and from Williamina Fleming, who was an early astrophysics pioneer, to James Clerk Maxwell, who worked out the composition of Saturn’s rings more than 120 years before a space probe studied them.

Space technology can offer economic, strategic and inspirational gains. As the writer Arthur C Clarke said,

“The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars ... A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space.”

We owe it not just to the people of today but to those who are yet to be born to get behind the project. We can build a great legacy and grasp the opportunity to be at the forefront of space technology, or we can choose to be left behind.

Space technology offers a new frontier for Scotland. Now we just need to boldly go and deliver it.

I move amendment S5M-16312.3, to insert at end:

“; notes the crucial diversification to the Scottish economy that the space sector provides; considers that future commercial viability will be dependent on the European small satellite launch on demand service, and notes the comparative advantage that Scotland enjoys for spaceport location by providing access to sun-synchronous and polar orbits.”


Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

The space race is on—it is Scotland as a location versus European and worldwide alternatives. The issue is not just whether Scotland can be such a location; it is important to recognise, as I am sure Mr Stewart does, that Andøya in Norway, the Swedish Government and the Portuguese Azores are all competing to have the first vertical launch site in Europe.

Small satellites can be launched from Scotland, but launches will depend on being first to market—and the market stress is the important aspect of the industry. Who will invest £1 billion a year, every year, in the coming decades? That is why the Shetland Space Centre, Shetland Islands Council and our industry partners will deliver a ground and data centre in Unst this year and a launch facility for small-scale satellites by 2020. As a director of the company, I find that an incredibly exciting project, which is being developed by private sector investment.

Shetland understands what industry needs and when—we have been doing that with oil and gas for the past 40 years. Unst, in particular, deserves economic support and a vibrant future. Shell flew fixed-wing and helicopter oil industry transfers from Baltasound airfield to the east Shetland oil basin until that was discontinued in the late 1990s, and, in 2006, NATO closed down its Saxa Vord radar station. Those decisions halved Unst’s population and were a huge blow to the island’s economic future. I want to reverse that, as do our council and partners, and nothing will prevent our pursuing that objective.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise in Inverness authored the Sceptre report, which is an authoritative assessment of the small-scale satellite space market and where a UK launch site should be situated. The report established Unst as the best location for vertical launch in the UK because it is the furthest and most northerly point. For reasons that I do not understand, HIE refused to publish the report. Shetland Islands Council obtained the report not from the Highlands and Islands’ economic development agency but from the UK Space Agency. HIE has not worked to help Shetland on its launch proposals ever since, and I do not understand why.

HIE should adopt a fair approach of encouraging all options, as the minister and David Stewart rightly said. Ministers should adopt a level playing field on launch sites to ensure that Scotland delivers against European competition. To answer Edward Mountain’s question, that is what is behind my amendment. All areas of space activity need Government support to compete not with each other but in the worldwide market. Enterprise areas could be established to bring in business—that would be a signal that the Government is taking an even-handed approach to the market and supporting all of Scotland. I hope that the minister and the Tories accept that logic, and I hope that he refers to that issue in his closing remarks.

Unst is the right location for space launches. Why? A rocket blasting off from Unst would cross only sea; it would not pass over the west of Shetland’s oil fields and installations or the Faroe Islands.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I, too, have a copy of the Sceptre report. Although it says that the Shetland isles are the best location to launch from because, as the member said, the trajectory avoids the populations in the Faroe Islands and Iceland, it also says that a remote island location would be more logistically challenging than a mainland site such as the Moine peninsula. That is why that site was chosen to be supported.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will give you your time back, Mr Scott.

Tavish Scott

I hope Gail Ross accepts that, if that argument had been followed, we would never have built the Sullom Voe oil terminal or the Total gas plant at a cost of $4 billion, and engineering companies such as Schlumberger and many others would not have been based in Shetland for the past 40 years. I cannot understand why HIE is running down Shetland, as it has been doing, as though we cannot do things, as though we do not have engineering companies and as though we have not had oil and gas for 40 years. The evidence is, rather, to the contrary.

An Unst launch would directly reach polar and sun-synchronous orbits, as David Stewart rightly said, and that is what industry needs. Unst would do that directly; no other site would do that.

The parallels with oil and gas are resonant. When the vast east Shetland basin was discovered, in the 1970s, the industry needed the nearest point of land for a terminal. That became Sullom Voe. Once again, but for space launches, it is industry and not public agencies that will choose the preferred location. That is why ArianeGroup, the European space monolith, is partnering with the Shetland Space Centre to design and build the launch facility.

I am grateful to the First Minister for her discussion with our partners in ArianeGroup when she recently met the company in Paris. As the company explained to the First Minister, Unst is the best location in northern Europe. That is why commercial satellite businesses across Scotland of the kind that the minister and others have described have been to Unst and want to launch from Unst. It is why Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall—a UK earth observation centre—will partner with Shetland. Its chief executive said:

“it’s obvious that Shetland is recognised as the best location by key launch companies.”

It is why the UK Government and its regulator, the UK Space Agency, support launch options across the UK. Let us be in no doubt that Unst will be at the centre of this exciting new industrial future. I say to Edward Mountain that it will be the final frontier.

I move amendment S5M-16312.1, to insert at end:

“; and supports the creation of enterprise zones in those areas of Scotland where space activity is being developed.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Oh dear. I do not really want to hear any more of these astronomical quotes, quotes about satellites or whatever, but I suppose that I am going to.

We move to the open debate, and I ask for four-minute speeches. I call Clare Adamson, to be followed by John Scott.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can I start by saying—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I beg your pardon—I might have done something wrong. [Interruption.] It was you who jumped the gun, Mr Scott—I did not get it wrong.

John Scott

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer. It was my fault.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Och, it is such a change. I call Clare Adamson, to be followed by the former Deputy Presiding Officer, John Scott, who should know better.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I will not be arguing this afternoon for the spaceport to come to my constituency. However, I should point out that Motherwell and Wishaw has a great tradition of engineering and science and a wonderful college. I would welcome any new businesses in the sector to come and investigate what is happening in our area.

Last week, I was delighted to attend the celebrating EU researchers night, which was hosted in the Parliament by Lewis Macdonald—I certainly hope that it will not be the last time that we are able to celebrate horizon 2020 projects in this area. Explorathon was there with seven of our world-class universities, showing off work that they are doing that has been funded by the European Commission.

Among those involved was the University of Strathclyde, and I was delighted to meet Peter McGinty, the network manager for the stardust project, which is devoted to mastering the techniques for monitoring asteroids and space debris, managing their removal and deflection and exploring possible benefits of exploiting them as a resource in the future. The stardust consortium is a collaboration of universities from across the EU and private investors who are seeking an ethical approach to space exploration that embraces the reusability of components and manufacturing to allow us to limit the amount of debris that there is in space as well as potential risks from asteroids and man-made space debris. It is a fantastic project.

If members want a timely reminder of what space debris looks like, they should go and see the Black Arrow R3, which is sitting outside. I thank the Presiding Officer for working with Skyrora to bring it to the Parliament today—in fact, its people told me that you are now affectionately known as “the rocket lady”. I realise that I might have to pay for that comment later.

Stardust is a truly visionary project that exemplifies the potential for Scotland and our universities to lead in this new industry.

In 2016, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s directorate for science, technology and innovation produced a policy note titled “Space and Innovation: How do Space Activities Relate to the Global Economy?” It states:

“Three overarching thrusts ... driving innovation in the space sector”

up to 2026 are

“the persistence of national security and science objectives (with ever-more countries investing in space programmes); ... the expansion of downstream space applications; ... and the pursuit of human space exploration.”

It is therefore not surprising that Government funding is key to the sector.

However, disappointingly, when the policy note came out, the UK had one of the lowest percentage shares of gross domestic product being spent in the area. Only 0.05 per cent of the research budget was being allocated to it compared with 0.1 per cent in France—double the UK’s spend. Business enterprise research and development statistics show that, since then, Scotland has been investing in research and development in the area, with a particularly impressive figure of more than £1.2 billion having been spent on R and D businesses in Scotland last year. That is a sizeable 13.9 per cent real-terms increase on what was spent in 2016 and a 93.6 per cent increase on 2007 levels of spend. BERD expenditure in Scotland in 2017 was £1.247 billion—the highest level since 2001—while UK expenditure increased by only 2.9 per cent in real terms over the same period.

This is an area in which we can boldly go and be world leaders. After all, space is the final frontier. Whether we are talking about space debris or landing Philae on comet 67P, Scotland can lead the way.


John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

What a pleasure it is to take part in this debate on Scotland becoming Europe’s leading space nation. Indeed, it is a pleasure following last week’s signing of the Ayrshire growth deal at Ayrshire College, when £80 million was allocated to aerospace and the space programme, of which £32 million came from the UK Government and £30 million came from the Scottish Government, with South Ayrshire Council adding £18 million to the total. I say thank you, in my old-fashioned way, to each of those agencies of government for that massive level of support.

Prestwick airport, with its 880 acres of land and its unique natural and geographical attributes, has a bright future and enormous potential. Of still greater importance to Ayrshire—particularly South Ayrshire—is the almost 4,000 largely maintenance, repair and overhaul jobs that are supported by the aerospace sector in and around the airport. The concept of a spaceport at Prestwick would build on and from that solid foundation.

Companies such as Spirit, which employs more than 1,000 people and builds 65 leading-edge wings per month for Airbus, are involved in pioneering use of composite materials; BAE Systems designs the aeroplanes of the future and is involved in helping to develop a new horizontal-launch reusable spacecraft; and companies such as Chevron are seeking more hangar space to refurbish aircraft from many of the world’s major airlines. Between them, Ryanair, UTC, Woodward and GE Caledonian support more than 1,000 jobs, and, with 800 jobs at National Air Traffic Services, there is a genuinely world-class hub of expertise in and around Prestwick.

Prestwick seeks to be part of the growing small-satellite space industry, which is expected to be worth £3.8 billion to the UK by 2030, as Ivan McKee said, because Prestwick is the location of choice in the UK for horizontal-launch spacecraft, with cleared airspace all the way to the north pole. That is why the allocation of the £80 million to Prestwick airport last week is so important. That money and other funds that are available will allow the airport to make the modest infrastructure improvements that are necessary to make horizontal launch possible from the site and to gain the necessary civil aviation authority certification as well as host the Scottish space and innovation centre.

Of course, Scottish Conservatives welcome the vertical launch site that is to be built in Sutherland, but the big prize in the field will go to those who are using reusable horizontal-launch vehicles at a location that is supported by excellent road and rail infrastructure as well as by can-do companies that can design, build and repair anything that flies. Cleared airspace to the north pole is another vital asset of the Prestwick site.

One of the local companies that is very much involved in the new space race is Orbital Access, which is led by Stuart McIntyre, who is the grandson of Group Captain McIntyre, one of the founders of the airport in 1935. In addition, the University of Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland are all involved in the development of the spaceport, and they support Clyde Space and other Glasgow builders of small satellites. I congratulate those hugely successful pioneers and market leaders on the development of small satellites in the west of Scotland.

Horizontal satellite space launch may be just around the corner at Prestwick, where, it is hoped, the operational model and business case for horizontal launch will be in place by October this year. When that happens, the world will once again take note of what Prestwick can deliver. It is my hope that this cutting edge industry, along with the other organisations that are already on site, will attract further investors to Prestwick and Ayrshire.

The Ayrshire growth deal has come at exactly the right time for the development of Prestwick, and it is an opportunity to be seized with both hands—as, I am certain, it will be, with both Governments, three councils, three universities and Ayrshire College, as well as the people of Ayrshire, all working together in a collaborative way to make that development a success.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

As a 13-year-old, I would catch the bus into Glasgow city centre with my friend Colin and visit the old spit and sawdust Bay Horse pub. Over a Coca-Cola, we watched the original—to my mind, the only—“Star Trek”, our mothers’ addiction to “Coronation Street” denying us the chance to see such a magnificent programme at home in an era before catch-up television, DVD and even video, although, I know that for you, Presiding Officer, it was the invention of the talkies that changed your world.

Members: Oh!

Kenneth Gibson

While watching fleshy, flashy Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Bones and the gang, we escaped the reality of the cold war and a hot conflict in Vietnam, travelling to a future three centuries hence, where Captain Kirk always got the girl and the nations of the earth had set aside their differences, abolished poverty, racism and conflict to create a multi-ethnic, indeed multispecies, united federation of planets, and explored the universe with astonishingly advanced technology.

In the mid-1970s, the Apollo project was winding down, but we looked forward to humanity landing on Mars by 1985, moon bases by 1999 and our species fulfilling its destiny and reaching for the stars long before now. Sadly, as Scotty, chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise said, ye cannae change the laws of physics, and the invention of warp drive—moving faster than the speed of light—still eludes us. I take my hat off to those space pioneers who still look upwards and see humanity reaching beyond the confines of our beautiful planet.

Today, we had a wee glimpse of our current involvement in space with Skyrora bringing the Black Arrow to Parliament. I thank you for that, Presiding Officer.

Back in October 2016, I strongly argued for Prestwick to be the UK’s first spaceport. Since then, Prestwick has worked with partners to make a horizontal space launch from there a reality, moving towards a licence application. It has one of the longest runways in the UK—more than 2,980m long—and frequently handles the largest aircraft.

Already a NASA partner, Prestwick has hygiene, health check and rehabilitation facilities for astronauts returning from space via Kazakhstan. With the space industry set for rapid growth, we have a tremendous opportunity for Ayrshire to become a hub for commercial space flights. That would showcase Scotland’s already world-renowned skills in engineering and science, propelling us into developing the next generation of space-related industries. Scotland already has 18 per cent of UK space-related jobs.

Some of the largest global aerospace companies are already in Prestwick, including BAE Systems, GE Caledonian, UTC Aerospace Systems, Woodward International Inc and, as John Scott mentioned, Spirit Aerosystems, which employs around 1,000 people at Prestwick.

Scotland’s achievable share of the global space market is £4 billion by 2030. Prestwick will be vital to that, offering the UK’s first horizontal launch facility and low-cost regular access to space, and providing full services to the sector. It is not only the space industry that will profit; we will have more spending power in the Ayrshire economy from the spaceport workers and increased tourism will bring further benefits. Ayrshire already has huge appeal because of our beautiful coastlines, golf courses and rich heritage. The spaceport will build on that.

Prestwick is one of only two tier 1 UK airports able to take aircraft in security emergencies and is also a search and rescue base for Her Majesty’s Coastguard. A further advantage is Prestwick’s proximity to two hospitals within 20 minutes’ drive. Glasgow, home to some of our nation’s finest university graduates, research teams, innovative companies and over half of Scotland’s aerospace workforce—along with 8,000 engineering undergraduates—is within an hour of Prestwick. Central road and rail services make it simple to transport equipment and materials and to attract specialist staff.

Thanks to the SNP Government, more than £50 million has been invested in Ayrshire’s further and higher education infrastructure over the past five years. The Scottish and UK Governments, through the Ayrshire growth deal, agreed to £62 million just last Friday which, along with £18 million from South Ayrshire Council, will support the space and aerospace industries at Prestwick.

Prestwick has been a centre of aerospace excellence for over 80 years and today it continues to go from strength to strength.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must conclude there.

Kenneth Gibson

Prestwick’s spaceport will perfectly showcase—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Conclude! I am sorry, but if you make an ageist comment to the Presiding Officer, you cannot expect me to be sympathetic.


Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I was going to begin by calling you rocket lady, Presiding Officer, but now I dare not do that.

This is an important debate for several reasons. First, it is clearly an opportunity for the Scottish economy and one that we need to grasp. Secondly, and more importantly, it is an opportunity that, as the Government motion identifies, builds on the strengths that we have in Scotland. As Scots, we are sometimes too slow to recognise our strengths and it is important that we identify them. However, finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity for us to talk about the cool stuff that we have seen on recent visits in and around our constituencies.

Let me begin by doing just that. I was hugely excited to look at the NASA robot Valkyrie, which is based at the informatics department at the University of Edinburgh. It is a 1.8m humanoid robot that has been gifted by the Johnson Space Center to the University of Edinburgh so that it can develop the robot’s control systems and other technology. The robot has been built to explore how robots can be used in space exploration.

Robots in space—it really does not get much better than that. I must admit that, when I come home from work having had a day like that and describe what I have done, my wife asks me whether I have a real job. However, it is hugely important that we look at such things.

If, a number of years ago, people had talked to me about spaceports, I would have thought that they were talking about Mos Eisley rather than somewhere here in Scotland, although I would not dare describe either Shetland or Sutherland as a

“hive of scum and villainy”,

even if that is how Obi-Wan Kenobi might have described such a place. I will not embroil myself in that particular space war, but the very fact that Scotland builds more satellites than anywhere else in Europe or, indeed, anywhere outside California, is remarkable.

The way the space industry has changed in terms of entrepreneurial opportunities, perhaps most conspicuously with Elon Musk and SpaceX, and the fact that we can take advantage of those opportunities here in Scotland, is hugely exciting. Scotland is truly a centre of excellence for technology and engineering, and I was pleased that the minister highlighted the activity that is taking place at the Royal Observatory in my Edinburgh constituency. There we have the Higgs centre for innovation and the UK astronomy technology centre, which are very much at the forefront of development and investment in small and medium enterprises developing space opportunities.

The award of funding in August 2018 to the University of Edinburgh as part of the space research and innovation network for technology—SPRINT—is hugely welcome. It enables us to draw on many important factors that we have here in Edinburgh, including data science as well as the data infrastructure and the opportunities presented through the city region deal. A number of other things are also occurring at the University of Edinburgh, such as the work with Orbital Micro Systems.

More broadly, we need to look at how technology will change our industry and the nature of employment. The space sector is just one of those opportunities and it is vital that we focus on the investment and support that are required to take advantage of those opportunities.

These days, it is almost impossible to ignore Brexit, but the true cost of Brexit is the distraction that it creates from the real focus, which should be on opportunities such as this to develop our economy for the future and make sure that Scotland is at the forefront of both technology and the development of jobs for the future.


Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I thank the Presiding Officer for allowing me to leave after my speech, as I have other business to attend to. I apologise to the members whose speeches I will not be able to enjoy.

As I am the MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, it will be no surprise that I am able to support one site for a spaceport. A few years ago, someone who shall remain nameless whispered to me at the end of a meeting in Caithness, “What do you think about launching rockets from north Sutherland?” At that time, I admit that it seemed to be an impossibility. What on earth could that little piece of the Highlands offer to the multibillion-pound space industry? How could we ever get that off the ground?

Move forward to 2018, and I find myself on “Good Morning Scotland” explaining how a remote peninsula in north Sutherland could become the first vertical launch site in Europe. There is a total funding package of £17.3 million for one of the most remote, rural and fragile areas in Scotland, including the grant award from the UK Space Agency of £2.5 million, along with £9.8 million from HIE—and that is without the private investment of Lockheed Martin and Orbex.

Sutherland is one of the areas set to be hit by the closure of the Dounreay nuclear power plant, which is the single biggest employer on the north coast. It is predicted that the population will fall by at least 11.9 per cent by 2041. It is imperative that we do all we can to create opportunities to keep young people and families in the area. In that and many more regards, the announcement of the UK Space Agency grant funding, along with the backing for the Sutherland site from HIE, Lockheed Martin and Orbex, is brilliant news for my constituents and wider Scotland. With the rundown of Dounreay, that will provide confidence to my area that other industries can and will move into the area and offset the impact that the closure of Dounreay will have, especially for those people who want to remain in the area and work there.

The Caithness and north Sutherland regeneration partnership is recognised as a great way of working. It has been supported from its inception by the Scottish Government and I feel that it is now time for the Scottish Parliament to show that we are looking to support the area as a whole.

Following the award of the grant last summer, HIE is developing the proposed spaceport at Sutherland, which could create 40 jobs for the local community and hundreds more in the wider supply chain.

Orbex has already announced plans for its base in Moray. There are also opportunities for Inverness, the Western Isles, and Argyll and Bute. Shetland has signed an agreement to establish a satellite tracking and communication centre in Unst. I was happy to hear the Shetland constituency MSP, Tavish Scott, confirm that that is going ahead. It just goes to prove that, when we work together as team Scotland, there can be rewards for all those areas.

The proposal will give the opportunity for people to grow their skills in the sector. Businesses in the supply chain will benefit and it will attract tourists, who will bring their hard-earned cash to spend, enabling more small and medium-sized enterprises to flourish.

The UK Government is working at pace to develop the detailed regulations that are required to implement the Space Industry Act 2018, and HIE continues to support a range of organisations that are interested in establishing space launch services.

The project is a lifeline for my constituency, which is one of the most remote and rural, economically fragile and demographically challenged parts of Scotland. We must get behind the project and show north Sutherland that it is not forgotten, and show the world that that little piece of the Highlands is open for business.


Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am pleased to contribute to this important debate on a significant and fast-growing sector of Scotland’s economy, although I am disappointed that all the good quotations on space have already been used by other members.

We have heard that the space sector offers the prospect of high-value jobs and a boost to the Scottish economy. The sector has grown at an average of more than 8 per cent every year over the past decade, and average wages in the sector are four times the national average. Over and above that, the space sector will deliver much wider advantages in the fields of transportation, energy, the environment, information technology and industrial productivity.

The good news is that Scotland is uniquely positioned to lead the UK’s commercial space sector and become one of the leading pioneers in Europe. We welcome the fact that the UK and Scottish Governments recognise that potential. As the UK astronaut, Tim Peake, said after his voyage in 2015:

“We need to give our industry a chance to develop ... If we’re not involved now, then we are simply going to miss the boat.”

Responding to that challenge, the UK Government’s industrial strategy has set the ambitious target to increase the UK’s share of the global space market from 6.5 per cent now to 10 per cent in the next 10 years. The industrial strategy is also positioning spaceports around the country to access the global market for launching small satellites, which is worth £10 billion.

Scotland is benefiting significantly as a result of those investments. As we have heard, 18 per cent of UK employment in the space industry is in Scotland. Last year, the UK Government announced more than £31 million in funding for the UK space sector, including support for the Sutherland spaceport, which would create hundreds of new jobs and considerable economic benefits. Initial funding of £2.5 million has already been allocated to develop the vertical launch site in Sutherland, which will use innovative rocket technologies to pave the way for a world-leading space flight facility. Commenting on the investments, Lockheed Martin said:

“The UK Space Agency’s strategic vision for a world-class launch market will position the nation for a very bright future”.

In addition to those investments, the UK Government, working together with the Scottish Government through the Ayrshire growth deal, has committed to developing Prestwick airport as a horizontal take-off spaceport, as well as a new aerospace and space innovation centre as part of a sector-leading cluster. As John Scott said, that investment will bring about a transformational change to Ayrshire’s economy—quite rightly, it has cross-party support in this Parliament.

Another crucial area in which the UK industrial strategy is delivering is the field of satellite technology, which has recently received investment of more than £50 million. Scotland already leads in that area. Glasgow companies produce eight satellites every week and those firms have welcomed the new investment in Scotland. Commenting on the future of the space satellite industry, Clyde Space said:

“Having a spaceport located in Scotland will bring about a whole host of commercial advantages and not only to our operations in Glasgow, but to the entire space sector in the whole of the UK.”

The space sector offers a significant opportunity for Scotland to develop and lead in a vital industry for the future. The best way of doing that will be through close collaboration with industry and research partners across the UK. The UK industrial strategy provides the scale, expertise and unparalleled levels of research and development that can help Scotland to reach our full potential in this area. I encourage the minister and his colleagues—perhaps he can mention this in his closing speech—to fully realise those opportunities, work together with the UK Government and take advantage of the scale that the UK industrial strategy will provide.

I support the amendment in Edward Mountain’s name.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

For this debate, two obvious questions come to mind. First, why Scotland? And secondly, why space? The answers are really quite obvious.

Why space? In Scotland, we have a long tradition of engineering and invention, and many of the technologies that we use today are possible because of that history. David Stewart referred to James Watt, who introduced the steam engine to our industries. John Logie Baird invented the television; indeed, he demonstrated the first colour television in the late 1920s, not long after the first black and white television. Ken Gibson referred to Montgomery Scott of Star Trek but failed to provide the quotation from the actor, James Doohan, who played Scotty and who, when asked by the director of the film what nationality he thought the engineer should be, simply replied

“all the world’s best engineers have been Scottish.”

That is why Star Trek had a Scottish engineer.

Scotland continues to punch above its weight—we all know that. Members have referred to many of the companies in the west of Scotland such as Spire, which has been blown away by the first-class employees that it can attract in Scotland; that is why Glasgow houses its European headquarters.

Now, why space? Well, space represents an infinite—or near infinite—possibility. In financial terms, we have heard about the value of the industry now and the expectations that it will triple in the lifetime of many of the people who are here today. Capturing just a little bit of that cake would be extremely valuable for our economy, for growth, for the creation of well-paid jobs and, indeed, for the development of new technologies and ownership of the intellectual property here, in order to provide enduring income streams. The public sector has its role in providing the consents and the infrastructure at both UK and Scottish level.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. Space has soft power, which we need to recognise. Sputnik 1 went up on 4 October 1957, as a demonstration of Soviet power, and Sputnik 2, with the first mammal, a dog called Laika, on board, went up to align with the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution—in what was, according to the old calendar, October 1917—on 3 November 1957. Therefore, it is about soft as well as hard power.

We need to look beyond ourselves, at what we can be rather than what we are. I simply love the Shan Jahan quotation that is on the side of the Taj Mahal, which says:

“happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to make the sacrifice to make them come true.”

Well, we have dreams for space and we have the means to make them come true—they do not even need great sacrifice.

Tavish Scott made an important point when he said that we should be the first, and the history of space illustrates that. Who was the second woman in space? The answer is Kondakova. We remember Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first, but we do not remember who was second. Who was the second American to orbit the earth? We remember John Glenn, who was the first, but Gus Grimmon we might not remember. And who was the second Soviet? He was Titov; Gargarin, of course, we remember.


Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

I am of an age to have been brought up hearing the immortal words in my ears, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Space may be our final frontier, but the galaxy is no longer far, far away. Scotland has the opportunity to be a leader in the on-going reach for space, and we can become a significant force in the context of space advancement and industry for years to come.

Scotland has already begun the push to develop itself as a leader in the reach for space. A 2016 London Economics report entitled “Development of the Scottish Space Industry” stated:

“it is imperative to first consolidate and maintain the strong existing base of the Scottish space industry and economy”.

It said:

“In order for Scotland to become a market-leading space cluster, a strategic focus on one capability, market or infrastructure needs to be identified and all development effort needs to be focussed on establishing Scotland as a global authority and centre for that activity.”

Scotland is key to the development of the UK space market. As the report said:

“The UK’s Space Innovation and Growth ... Action Plan from 2010 defines a target for the UK space economy to capture 10% of the global market by 2030”


“Scotland may be regarded as a location-based space cluster ... The Scottish space cluster is supported by a range of institutions, policy measures and other infrastructure characteristics, backing the industry by means of a range of activities including networking and industry coordination, business incubation, technology funding, business and industry promotion, and research and education activities.”

Some companies in Scotland are already reaching into space. I recently had the opportunity to visit Skyrora’s new production facility in Loanhead, which is in my Midlothian North and Musselburgh constituency. Skyrora is an Edinburgh-based launch vehicle company that leverages proven space technology to provide a cost-effective and reliable launch service for satellites from northern Scotland, in line with the UK Government’s aim to capture a larger share of the global space market. Attracted by its proximity to future launch sites and customers as well as the ability to gain access to universities and to benefit from the long-standing engineering heritage that our country boasts, Skyrora opened its first Scottish production facility in Loanhead. That is evidence that value is already being added to our economy. It has stated:

“We aim to develop the Scottish ... space ecosystem to reduce the cost of access to space, allowing all of society to reap the benefits that space data can provide, ranging across every sector imaginable.”

Skyrora successfully launched Scotland’s first-ever commercial rocket in August 2018 and it plans to launch a further three test vehicles within the next year, building up to its first orbital launch in the early 2020s. It has no doubt that Scotland is the ideal place to conduct such activity, as it pushes forward with its plans to solidify its position as the UK’s most advanced satellite launch vehicle company. That space-focused company is investing in Scotland.

Choosing to invest in space will have diverse, long-lasting and positive effects on the Scottish economy. The London Economics report stated:

“Scotland’s space industry is significant, and it leads the line globally in the nascent field of nanosatellites”.

It also said:

“the closer proximity to a launch facility will make the logistics of launch significantly easier. This will reduce the need to ‘piggy-back’ off larger satellites launches into geostationary orbit.”

According to Skyrora,

“Scotland builds 40% of the world’s small satellites and 25% of the world’s telecom satellites but it lacks the capacity to launch these satellites into space.”

Therefore, Scotland has the opportunity to be a leader in the on-going industrialisation of space.

As we invest in local resources, our economy will be strengthened and we will become a powerful force in the context of space advancement and industry for years to come. Let us, therefore, choose to continue to invest in the development of our space sector.


Tavish Scott

The real message from the debate is that Kenny Gibson should, in the future, not insult the Presiding Officer, in order to ensure that he can finish his speeches. We were all gleefully waiting for that.

As we are doing history, the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon will be on 21 July, this summer. Some years back, I took my family on holiday to Houston for reasons with which I will not bore members—they were to do with friends in the south-west of the United States. The host family took us to the mission control centre in Houston. I do not know whether other members have been there, but it is well worth a visit. It is, of course, part of space history, but for some of us it brings back memories of watching things when were rather younger and smaller than we are now.

I want to stress three points in reflecting on the contributions that have been made. The first, which Stewart Stevenson made too, is that Scotland needs to be first. I do not apologise for making that point. My concern is not so much about what goes on in Scotland as it is about the competition that exists across Europe. Take, for example, the amount of money that the Portuguese might pour into the Azores. They are also trying to catch Orbex and are working hard with other companies that have been mentioned in the debate. We are not the only ones who aspire to provide the services and locations that the launching companies need.

On the satellite companies, a number of members made eminently sensible observations about the scale of that industry, the spin-outs from universities, the benefits for the teaching of STEM subjects in schools in particular, and the excitement that it creates in physics and chemistry departments because teachers can now see a way to make real the reasons why young girls and boys should take physics and chemistry courses in high school.

Space can do all those things—it reaches all those points—but to make its appeal even stronger we have to make sure that we win the launch business. I believe that there will be enough business for more than one launch site in Scotland.

John Scott made a persuasive case for Prestwick. Our people have certainly talked to many of the companies that he mentioned. I agree with his analysis. The interesting thing about horizontal launch is that in order for the rocket to be dropped safely from underneath the belly of the aircraft, it has to get into northern airspace where, in simple terms, there is nothing that it can be dropped upon. The ground station in Shetland and the ones that will exist in the Faroe Islands—I have no doubt that in time there will be stations north of the Arctic circle—will all be part of the international network.

I do not mean this to be derogatory, but Stewart Stevenson is looking at his mobile phone at the moment. Here’s the thing: I am told that from getting up in the morning and going through work every day, most of us use 23 separate satellites. As the minister rightly said, they are not Cape Canaveral satellites, but satellites that are the size of the folder that is sitting on Mr Stevenson’s desk. An awful lot more of them will go into space. Scotland designs and builds them now; in the future it will undoubtedly also be able to launch and recover them.

Stewart Stevenson

Will the member take an intervention?

Tavish Scott

Can I, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Yes—you can take a brief one. I will give you a little extra time.

Stewart Stevenson

Does Tavish Scott recognise that becoming the space dustman is also a commercial opportunity?

Tavish Scott

Absolutely. We could spend an afternoon on that issue, too. That was an entirely fair question.

My plea to the minister is for a level playing field so that all the flowers can flourish and Scotland can build a great industry. There would certainly be cross-party support for that. We should all be allowed to get on without people getting in our way, so we should make sure that wherever the industry exists in Scotland, it benefits Scotland not only in academic terms, but in purely commercial terms. The commercial market is the bit that we really want. That needs to happen as quickly as possible, wherever the industry exists—Sutherland, Unst, Penicuik or wherever.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The debate has provided an opportunity for some light-hearted banter. It appears that we are all Trekkies now. However, it is also a serious debate. We have to look at the advancements in technology that have made our talking about spaceports possible. It is absolutely incredible that that has happened, so we need to ensure that we are ready for spaceports.

Tavish Scott mentioned mobile phones. Last night, I told my mother what we were going to be debating today, and she asked why. I asked her whether she uses her phone. She does, so she will benefit from the technology, too.

I was slightly disappointed that the Scottish Government said that its ambition is to have one spaceport in Scotland. As we have heard in the debate, we could have two kinds of spaceport: vertical-launch and horizontal-launch ports. I would like the Scottish Government to be a bit more ambitious.

Ivan McKee

Perhaps I was not clear enough earlier. The Scottish Government is keen to encourage anyone who comes forward with a spaceport proposal. It will be considered by the agencies and assessed on its merits. That goes for vertical-launch spaceports and horizontal-launch spaceports. We are keen to have as many spaceports as we can sustain in Scotland.

Rhoda Grant

That was a welcome intervention.

We in the Parliament must make sure that we unite to ensure that the prize comes to Scotland. We must be careful not to waste too much energy on fighting with each other over where the spaceport should be based. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I know all the potential sites in my region. A spaceport would bring a great and much-needed economic boost to any of the areas. I am sure that that is true for the whole of Scotland.

Among others, John Scott and Kenny Gibson made strong pleas for Prestwick and Ayrshire. That is why the Lib Dem amendment is important, because it looks to provide assistance to all the areas that want to develop spaceports in order to ensure that the developments come to Scotland, but it would also allow all areas that are interested to benefit in some way and to develop their own centres of excellence.

This is not only about jobs at the launch site: it is also about the jobs in manufacturing and central services. There being a spaceport in Scotland would encourage all areas of Scotland to welcome the industry to set up shop. It could provide a number of centres of excellence. David Stewart told us that we design, build and operate spacecraft but, at the moment, have nowhere from which to launch them. We must therefore take that important step in order to ensure that we fit the bill for all aspects of the industry.

The nature of the work means that developers are looking at rural areas. I am sure that that was also the case when air travel first began. Rather than risking a satellite falling to the ground in a built-up area, launching out to sea means that there is less chance of damage if something goes wrong. I am sure that such concerns will quickly be overcome but, in the meantime, I am happy that the industry is looking at rural areas.

Similar was also, strangely, true of Dounreay. The reactor was built away from centres of population: it was rumoured that the plan was to roll the reactor into the sea when it was finished with. Therefore, it is perhaps fitting that the Sutherland spaceport should be developed on the same north coast as Dounreay. Gail Ross made the point that, with the downturn of Dounreay, a spaceport in Sutherland would be a much-needed boost to the area, as it would be for other areas.

We must also look at the skills and knowledge that we have and at the technology and robotics that we need to develop the industry, and we need to encourage young people to take up STEM subjects. David Stewart said that space innovation is attracting young people to STEM subjects; I hope that that is the case.

Daniel Johnson spoke about the interesting things that the University of Edinburgh is doing with space robotics. Again, that emphasises that the development is not for just one area of Scotland. Regardless of whether an area is beside the spaceport or not, there is work there that we can develop. Being in the same country means that we can all make the most of it.

In his opening speech, the minister talked about some of the things that we could develop in space, including solar energy and access to minerals, but I sound a note of caution: we must be very careful how we exploit space. We must make sure that we do not wreak havoc there, as we have done on earth. We must be much more gentle with our interventions in space.


Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

Presiding Officer,

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Those are, of course, the words of President John F Kennedy, as he attempted to persuade the American people about the Apollo programme. It captured the public’s imagination, not only on that side of the Atlantic, but around the world.

Putting a man on the moon once embodied what we thought of as a space project. However, as we have heard today, projects have become much more than that. From satellites that we have sent into space comes data that we—including Stewart Stevenson—use in Parliament on our mobile phones. Scotland is uniquely positioned to make the most of that. As the JFK quotation states, it organises

“the best of our energies and skills”.

In preparing for today’s debate, it has been quite eye-opening to come to understand the extent of Scotland’s readiness to embark on the mission, on which the minister, in his opening speech, Colin Beattie and other members throughout the debate have commented. That readiness is not only in terms of the geographical advantage that we hold for horizontal-launch and vertical-launch sites to reach highly sought-after orbits. I note that that is technical language with which I am certainly not familiar.

Leaders in the sector, including Nick Allain of Spire Global Inc, have been quoted this afternoon as saying that Scotland’s access to manufacturing and engineering expertise, as well as its world-class universities, have been the attraction for businesses to set up in Scotland, which means that Scotland now manufactures more satellites than anywhere outwith the United States, and that Glasgow is building more than any other European city.

That Scotland punches above its weight is evidenced by the fact that, as we have heard, our proportion of jobs in the UK space industry is double our proportion of the UK population as a whole.

We have heard about the importance of the west and the north of Scotland for our space sector. I will comment on the growing role that is played by this very city. The space economy relates not just to the traditional view of the space sector, in terms of manufacture, launch and operation of space assets including satellites, but to use of signals and data that are supplied back to earth from those assets, including for earth-observation imagery.

Edinburgh’s place as part of the space economy—although I think that it was not mentioned by my colleague Edward Mountain in his opening speech—is an important one. For example, the international center for earth data was set up last year jointly by a team from the University of Edinburgh and satellite technology provider Orbital Micro Systems. It will use data to improve weather forecasting around the world, for use by a number of sectors including agriculture, aviation and shipping. The University of Edinburgh is ideally placed to make the most of that opportunity by taking advantage of its excellence in data science and geoscience in order to maximise the value that is derived from earth-observation satellite data using the latest data techniques.

That reputation will only grow, as the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal—which is utilising funding from the UK and Scottish Governments—aims, through the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, to train 100,000 data scientists and foster 400 data-enabled start-up companies in the next 15 years, and as organisations and public bodies come to understand the usefulness of the data in areas ranging from monitoring of crop yields to pollution.

Conservative members have made clear the potential for Scotland to lead the UK’s commercial space sector. Given the ambition that the UK Government has in the area, it is an exciting prospect for Scotland. The Scottish Conservative amendment to today’s motion welcomes the Space Industry Act 2018 and the investment of £50 million by the UK Government

“to support small satellite launches and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports”,

both of which arise from the ambition in the UK Government’s industrial strategy to increase the UK’s share of the global space market to 10 per cent by 2030. As we have heard, the 2018 act lays the foundations to allow commercial operators to launch vehicles and payloads into orbit from UK soil.

That was swiftly followed by the announcement that Sutherland has been selected by the UK Space Agency to be the first spaceport in the United Kingdom—indeed, in Europe—backed up by £2.5 million of UK Government funding. The spaceport will bring about 400 jobs to the region by 2023 as a result of launch activities attracting further investment and talent to the area.

The spaceport will, of course, be utilised to launch into orbit the small satellites that are rapidly being manufactured in Scotland. Manufacturing and launching of that hardware could, as we have heard, be worth £3.8 billion to the UK economy.

With downstream use of data in cities such as Edinburgh, Scotland has real end-to-end capability. That might just be youthspeak. I think the phrase should be “beginning-to-end capability”: it includes design, manufacture, launch and operation of satellites, and utilisation of the data, all taking place here in Scotland.

To sum up the future prospects for Scotland’s space industry, I will wind up by quoting another American President. Richard Nixon said:

“The sky is no longer the limit.”

That said, budgets are limited. We will not support Tavish Scott’s amendment on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, because it provides no explanation of costings or of what it is intended the “enterprise zones” that he is interested in will do. I close with that remark.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was not quite sure where Richard Nixon’s quote began and ended, but I do not think that he said, “I’ll not be supporting Tavish Scott’s amendment.” I am sure that that is not the point.


Ivan McKee

It has been a pleasure to take part in the debate, which has featured three Scotts—not just John and Tavish but also Montgomery.

It is clear that everybody who has taken part in the debate is very serious about our ambitions for Scotland’s space sector. That theme has run through members’ speeches. Unlike many other members, Daniel Johnson and Gordon Lindhurst did not put in a bid for a launch site; instead, they talked about the great strengths, including on data science, that Edinburgh brings to the party. Over the coming decades, the people who work in data science will probably get the biggest financial benefit from the space sector.

John Scott and Kenny Gibson talked about Ayrshire and Prestwick, which the Scottish Government is very keen to support. I was intrigued by Kenny Gibson’s time machine, which took him back to the Bay Horse in 19-whenever-it-was.

John Scott

The minister mentioned big data. Will he say a little about the additionality of the Ayrshire growth deal and the data centre that was announced as part of that? Will he explain how that will benefit Prestwick and provide another reason for it being the location of choice?

Ivan McKee

As John Scott mentioned, the Ayrshire growth deal will support the creation of the aerospace and space innovation centre, which will be a central hub for encouraging growth and supporting aerospace and space businesses in the area. It will make a significant contribution to Ayrshire and the sector.

Dean Lockhart mentioned the UK industrial strategy. I make it clear that, at every opportunity, I encourage businesses, universities and others across all sectors to bid into the industrial strategy challenge fund, to make sure that Scotland gets at least its fair share of the money that is available to develop the various sectors here.

I thank Clare Adamson for not putting in a bid for a spaceport, which was very welcome. When she spoke about the opportunities with regard to space debris, she opened up another area, which was also touched on by Rhoda Grant. It is important that we respect the environmental aspects of the issue, whether by dealing with space debris or in the design and operation of the technology or the type of fuel that launch vehicles use, but opportunities for commercial development exist in those areas, too, as Clare Adamson highlighted.

An important issue that came up was that of inspiration. David Stewart and Rhoda Grant talked about how we can leverage the romance of space to inspire young people to get involved in STEM careers. This morning, I was at a datafest event with Primary Engineer, the City of Glasgow College and the data lab innovation centre in Glasgow. Pupils from a number of primary schools were there to take part in a competition in which—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please stop for a moment, Mr McKee. It is getting loud again. I say this every time: it is not fair to members who have taken part in the debate or to the minister for members to chat. Let us hear what the minister has to say. The members who have taken part in the debate are interested; if you are not interested, just sit there and be quiet.

Ivan McKee

The pupils were presenting on how they were using data. The way the young people were using spreadsheets and analysing data was very impressive. I made the point to them that one of the big uses of data in future will be for the space industry. I encourage the industry to raise its profile proactively in schools and encourage young people to get involved in studying STEM subjects and in STEM careers, using the hook of the space industry as an attraction.

I will talk briefly about enterprise zones, which Tavish Scott raised and which appear in the Lib Dem amendment. As I said in my opening speech, we are looking at enterprise zones, but I do not want to commit at this stage. The review by Scottish Enterprise is under way and the issue will be considered in the round when we know what the evidence says on where and for what sectors such zones are best deployed.

I have been struck by the energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved in the space sector, in both the public and private sectors, and in the chamber this afternoon. Everyone is showing a willingness to take innovative approaches to new challenges. It is important to remember that more than 7,500 people are already employed in Scotland’s space sector. Scotland is already the largest producer of small satellites in Europe, as a number of members have mentioned. We probably know more about what is happening in space than we do about what is happening on planet Brexit, but that is another story.

Those are real achievements, creating jobs and wealth for Scotland. We will build on our existing strengths to deliver full end-to-end space sector capability in build, launch and operation. We will encourage investment in the sector, to realise its full potential for Scotland. We are already attracting world-leading companies to all parts of Scotland, and we want it to be clear that Scotland is not only involved in the space sector but is a global leader. Our ambition, as the First Minister has clearly said, is for Scotland to be seen as an inventor and a producer, and not just a consumer, of goods and, in this case, space services. Perhaps that is nowhere more true than in the fast-growing space sector.

As a number of members have said, we aim to capture £4 billion of space-related business in Scotland by 2030. With the size of the prize within our reach, it is not surprising that there is fierce competition, as we witnessed this afternoon with members clearly passionate in advocating—

Daniel Johnson

Will the minister reflect on the need to focus on consolidation? We have seen flurries of activity in the past, such as in the computer industry in the 1980s, where there have been spin-outs from academic work, only to see that evaporate. Should that be addressed in the strategy?

Ivan McKee

That is an important point. As any sector evolves and develops, there is a flurry of activity at the start. It is not the place of the Government to say who the winners and losers will be. That will happen through a process of merger and development. It is hugely encouraging that there are so many start-ups, and we will watch that process closely to see how it evolves. We are in the early stages. The more businesses start up with great ideas, the better. That is to be encouraged.

We are already seeing economic benefits flow from developments in the space sector. The Orbex rocket factory in Forres, which I have visited, has been mentioned. Colin Beattie mentioned Skyrora and its new rocket facility in Loanhead. Scotland now has two rocket manufacturers based here. Members have mentioned the major investments at Prestwick, with ambitions for the first horizontal launch facility, and the aerospace and space innovation centre. There are also Shetland’s space centre’s plans for satellite-tracking and vertical-launch facilities; the aspirations for vertical launch in the Western Isles; the potential of the Machrihanish airstrip; the small-satellite manufacturing cluster that is going from strength to strength in Glasgow; and the space data applications businesses in Edinburgh and across the country. There are no doubt many others.

The enterprise agencies are ready and willing to support viable business proposals. The Scottish Government, working with the industry leadership council, is looking at what else we can do to support the sector further, including as I mentioned the review of enterprise zones. Our ambition is to have at least one spaceport in Scotland. With the market for launching small satellites expected to grow to 2,000 by 2030, there could be scope for many more.

We need to ensure that a team Scotland approach prevails, with the public and private sectors working together to deliver our ambition for the sector. It is a great ambition—to have a fully integrated space sector, building satellites and rockets, launching satellites, and gathering and using data from the satellites.

Scotland might be a small nation, but we are open, agile and flexible. We are already punching above our weight globally and, given the rapidly growing global space industry, now is the time for us to step up and seize the opportunity to make Scotland Europe’s leading space nation.