With more satellites being built in Scotland than pretty much any other place outside the USA, our so-called “Space Glen” is part of a new commercial space race with plenty of opportunities for scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The satellites built here might be the pocket versions of their more famous counterparts providing you with the GPS signal, satellite TV or that Google Earth image, but they are mightily capable and leading a “New Space” revolution across the industry. Cheaper (consumer) electronics and a wider than ever (on-line) pool of expertise and funding is enabling these 10cmx10cmx30cm (CubeSat) and 5cmx5cmx15cm (PocketCube) boxes, once they are orbiting the Earth, to collect pieces of information about atmospheric and land features as well as human activity such as agriculture, shipping and built environment.
However, the hardware is not the only thing that makes these developments possible – the trick is what you do with the data received! Here, Edinburgh’s world-leading Earth Observation cluster comes to play. Combining the unparalleled expertise in monitoring the Earth from the School of Geosciences and the globally recognised data analytics capability around the School of Informatics, Edinburgh University’s scientists are helping develop several dozen applications to enable smarter urban living and more sustainable and future-resilient management of our ecosystem. Connected together with SMEs through innovative networks, the fruits of this work are shared with governments, companies and public users, to make better decisions about policy, investment and every-day life choices. These range from the tree growth and rates of deforestation to how much heat is “leaking” from our tenements, often using openly accessible data from flagship international efforts, such as the European Union and European Space Agency’s Copernicus programme.
Furthermore, through the Data Driven Innovation programme, designed to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe, a new generation of collaborative research is being developed through the pioneering Living Laboratory approach. Supported by innovation intermediaries, such as the Space Network Scotland and Higgs Centre for Innovation, a dedicated team is planning to bring together science and engineering, businesses and local residents, in order to co-design solutions to most difficult challenges facing 21st century, from green mobility and energy efficiency to smarter urban design and better living spaces.
However, proving that is actually all rocket science, Edinburgh’s own rocket company, Skyrora, is leading the design and manufacturing of the dedicated launch systems to take the aforementioned small satellites into low-Earth orbit, and do it cheaper and more ecologically friendly than their competitors! With the exciting developments of UK spaceports in the North of Scotland, these rockets (if you look hard enough, you can even see some of the prototypes and models in a shop-window on Princess Street) may soon be taking off Scottish satellites “to the stars”!