Scottish Space Sector – 14.03.19

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.