THE world is becoming increasingly connected and our industries are becoming ever more technological in nature. Right now, Scotland stands on the cusp of a new industrial revolution which could boost our nation’s economy into new frontiers. Encouraging Scotland’s already powerful yet still nascent space industries by the creation of a Scottish Space Agency is precisely the tool we need to become one of the world’s leading space nations. Knowledge of our current strengths and weaknesses in this sector is key and this is where Craig Berry’s paper for Common Weal comes in.

His paper lays out clearly why Scotland’s space industry needs the dedicated and locally present support of a Scottish Space Agency which can tie the sector together and allow it to grow.

READ MORE: To independence and beyond: How Scotland could lead the way in space

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Scotland has always had a world-leading reputation for technological innovation, engineering and the sciences and this remains true to this day. These sectors already allow Scotland to be a major player in an industry which already accounts for £13.7 billion worth of the UK economy and Scotland accounts for around 18 per cent of all of the UK’s space sector jobs (making Scotland the highest performing area of the UK outside of London and the South East of England).

Scotland is also well placed to directly support launches to space, with multiple airstrips already capable of being converted into spaceports (with the Scottish Government’s current first preference location being Prestwick airport). A world-class Scottish spaceport could be worth over £100 million per year to the local economy and could support up to 550 jobs.

Our world-class universities and technology hubs will also allow the integration of new innovations into what will be a fast-growing and rapidly changing industry.

One can easily imagine all of these sectors working together and feeding off of each other. The technology centres research, design and test new applications from micro-communications satellites through novel scientific equipment out to all of the ground communication hardware required to talk to space. The universities will be educating and training people – from engineers to, very possibly, the first Scottish astronauts – to prepare them for the new classes of jobs opening up. Glasgow is already Europe’s leading satellite manufacturing city and this should certainly be encouraged to continue.

Even secondary industries such as tourism would benefit from the world-class attraction that the Space Agency’s headquarters could be.

And this doesn’t even include the possibility of attracting and launching space tourists (though one would have to be mindful of the environmental impact of such adventures, especially if they were to be confined to the super-rich).

There are clear weaknesses and vulnerabilities though. Many of the legal powers governing the space economy are reserved to Westminster so, at the moment, the Scottish Government has very little ability to directly involve itself in supporting these industries.

Research and development funding is especially beginning to look vulnerable as the amount of public investment has dropped greatly as a proportion of the industry’s income – from 90 per cent in 2012/13 to just three per cent in 2014/15.

A lack of focus and will to directly guide and lead the industry is also highlighted as a particular weakness of the current UK Space Agency and the current political atmosphere – including the continuing commitment to cuts to public services regardless of the return on those investments – certainly will not help.

A dedicated agency backed by a more forward-looking government would be an ideal environment the industry needs to succeed. This idea already has the backing of several major groups within the sector.

Finally, the current climate of uncertainty caused by Brexit is a particular concern. Whilst the European Space Agency (ESA) itself is not an EU organisation it does receive EU funding which may be affected by Brexit and the UK’s withdrawal from several other international bodies (such as Euratom) as part of the Brexit process and does not display the best of signals to other organisations.

In contrast, Scotland’s success will be found by co-operating with ESA and other space bodies and interlinking resources such as research, hardware and scarce but valuable launch windows.

Scotland’s leading role within the space sector could well be one of our economic and technological ambassadors which proves Scotland as a vital and active partner in the world ... and beyond it.

Dr Craig Dalzell is head of research at Common Weal