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Scotland’s space sector aims to become the greenest on Earth

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

The publication of a 'Scottish Space Sustainability Roadmap' has unveiled ambitious plans to reduce the space sector’s environmental impact.

The new sustainable space roadmap is the first of its kind in the world, and sees Scotland’s space sector declare its commitment to reducing its impact on the environment.

The roadmap sets out the steps needed to achieve the long-term goals of Scottish space missions, which are to be space-debris-neutral, to have zero emissions created from on-the-ground activities, and for Scotland to gain global recognition as a leader in sustainable space.

National and international expert interviews, in-depth study into other sustainability initiatives and consultation with the space industry informed the roadmap contents, which address areas such as the environmental impacts of building, fuelling and launching satellites, as well as the importance of promoting satellite data for environmental monitoring.

Scotland's business minister Ivan McKee said: “Scotland’s space industry has enormous growth potential and is rightly recognised as a key new market opportunity within the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. Last year, the Scottish government and partners set out our collective ambition for Scotland to become Europe’s leading space nation, taking a £4bn share of the global space market and creating 20,000 jobs by 2030.

“The Scottish government recognises the key role of space in the global fight against climate change. The Scottish space sector shares this collective responsibility and is already innovating through the use of greener fuels, lightweight materials, smart design and reusability. The Scottish Space Sustainability Roadmap is the next step in helping the sector reach net zero by 2045 and in setting an example for other nations.

“These are exactly the kind of actions necessary to help boost productivity, create sustainable jobs and position Scotland in the vanguard of responsible users of space across every part of the industry.”

Developed in collaboration with Space Scotland’s Environmental Task Force and funded by Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Space Sustainability Roadmap has been produced by space strategy firm AstroAgency in partnership with Glasgow-based Optimat.

Scottish Space Sector infographic - inline

Image credit: Scottish Enterprise

Jane Martin, managing director at Scottish Enterprise, said: “It’s almost a year since Glasgow hosted COP26, where world leaders gathered to address climate change and the global action needed. This roadmap represents another historic moment in our journey towards net zero and is further proof of Scotland’s commitment to take positive environmental action.

“By working together industry, academia and the public sector can find solutions to the worldwide challenge of making space more sustainable, helping to protect the Earth and space for future generations.”

Kristina Tamane, space sector business development lead at University of Edinburgh and Environmental Task Force co-chair, said: “The work behind this roadmap is unique because it is centred in action and leading the way globally in terms of sustainability of the whole space sector.

“Key colleagues across the UK, enabled by the Environmental Task Force, will proactively and consistently build a space sector that is sustainability focused by design – working collaboratively and internationally to achieve this ambitious goal. This is a truly historic document which I am positive will lead to an environmentally conscious space sector development, led by Scotland.”

As one of the early actions identified in the roadmap, Scottish Enterprise, together with partners Scottish Government and The Data Lab, has launched a £300,000 innovation challenge to fund innovative solutions using space data to aid Scotland’s transition to net zero. Successful applications will secure funding of between £20,000 and £30,000 with the fund closing for applications on 26 September 2022.

Scotland Space Sector People: (Left to right): Kristina Tamane, Space Sector Business Development Lead at University of Edinburgh and Space Scotland Environmental Task Force Co-Chair; Jane Martin, managing director at Scottish Enterprise; Business Minister Ivan McKee; Dr Ashley Stewart, Optimat; Daniel Smith, AstroAgency and Space Scotland Environmental Task Force Co-Chair

Image credit: Scottish Enterprise

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Scotland is a vital part of the UK’s growing space sector, which employs 47,000 people and generates an annual income of £16.5bn. We welcome the new sustainable space roadmap, which is a strong statement of intent to reduce environmental impact.

“The UK is taking a global lead on space sustainability. We’re developing new missions and capabilities to improve how we track objects in orbit and accelerate technologies such as active debris removal, while setting new standards and working closely with international partners to keep space open for future generations.

“We’re also backing missions to help monitor and tackle climate change, such as the UK-built Biomass satellite, which will measure carbon stored by the world's forests, and the new FORUM mission, which will provide unique measurements of our planet’s infra-red energy to improve our understanding of our climate.”

Scotland's ambitious space sector is identified by the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies as a key opportunity for future economic growth. The Scottish Space Strategy, published last October, aims to create 20,000 jobs and secure a £4bn share of the global space market.

With this growth comes an accompanying responsibility to mitigate the environmental impacts of the space sector. Accordingly, in 2019 industry group Space Scotland established an Environmental Task Force working group, comprising around 20 representatives from the space sector, to better understand the true impact of the space industry on both Earth and low Earth orbit.

Last year, the Environmental Task Force ran an initiative to gather environmental challenges for space to solve from schools, environmental groups and government agencies. The initiative led to an online showcase of how space could contribute to net-zero ambitions.

Today’s roadmap announcement comes ahead of two major industry events, Space Comm in the UK and International Astronautical Congress in France, where a deep dive of the roadmap will be presented to an international audience. Space Scotland will be looking to energise the debate and collaborate, with the support and endorsement of the UK Space Agency, to engage with international partners and leaders to ensure sustainability is at the forefront of growth.

Scotland’s space sector covers a wide range of specialisms, from satellite and rocket manufacturers to launch facilities and research and data analysis.

Scotland's space industry was estimated to have generated £880m for the Scottish economy in 2017/18, with a sustained annual growth rate of 12 per cent. Scotland has seen an increase in employment of almost 10 per cent since 2016.

The number of space businesses in Scotland has increased by more than 65 per cent since 2016 and the sector proportionately employs over twice as many people in Scotland as the rest of the UK.

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