SCOTLAND is “the place for space” – and could dominate the satellite industry as start-ups pioneer world-leading technology, it is claimed.

Already the country accounts for 18 per cent of British space industry jobs over more than 100 companies and public organisations.

More than 7000 people are employed in the sector, with Glasgow building more satellites than any other European city in the past two years.

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Unveiling his company’s groundbreaking new product yesterday – claimed to be the world’s cheapest, lightest and smallest satellite – Tom Walkinshaw, founder of Alba Orbital, says the country could be heading for stratospheric success.

The claims come against a backdrop of public scepticism about the strength of the homegrown space sector. A recent report by the Common Weal think tank about the potential for a spaceport worth a £100 million to the economy, as reported in this newspaper, was met with disbelief, with Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, who represents Glasgow, branding it “science fiction”.

But yesterday Wilkinson told The National: “This is a new story and one that is not well spread yet. In time people will start to recognise Scotland and Glasgow is the place for space.

“The more companies like us bang the drum and move the needle forward, the more people will be drawn to it.”

Tom Walkinshaw, 27, founded Alba Orbital after graduating as an alternative to moving abroad for work.

Now the four-year-old firm is preparing to launch Unicorn-1, which weighs just half a kilo and is no bigger than a can of cola.

Despite its size, the gadget, part of the PocketQube class, is capable of sending signals across 360,000km of space and will launch early next year.

Developed and tested in the company’s Gorbals offices, it is geared towards companies intent on bidding for major contracts with agencies such as Nasa, allowing them to send their technology up on the satellite and test it before pitching for deals.

Walkinshaw said: “If you can send it up and monitor it for a year, you have a very convincing pitch that your technology can work in space “The name comes from Scotland’s national animal. Usually satellites are named after birds or other animals. The unicorn is rare and mythical, and trying to get something in orbit is very difficult. It works on a few levels.”

On founding the firm and its potential, he went on: “I couldn’t get a job and didn’t want to move away. I had to start a company.

“There are no direct competitors for what we are doing. We are the largest company in the PocketQube world. We want to build more satellites than any other company because ours are very small and very prime for mass production. We could definitely build a lot – hundreds if not thousands a year.”

Formed in 2013, the firm employs 11 people and got its initial start through crowdfunding. Since then it has won backing from the European Space Agency and Scottish Enterprise.

The Unicorn-I series is advertised for launch at a price of just €250,000, which Walkinshaw says is “the cheapest launch in the world by probably half”.

The saving comes from the size of the device. He said: “We are years ahead of other people with the PocketQube stuff. It has taken a lot of hard work over a long period of time.

“For a satellite to launch, every kilo costs more than a gold bar. Ours is €40,000, plus the platform itself. We are now working on Unicorn-II, which costs more but gets amazing performance specs. It does everything Unicorn-I, but with all the bells and whistles on.”

On the developing interest in satellite technology for telecoms, security and more, the entrepreneur said: “It is exploding. We are going to see a lot more people trying to fly missions. A lot of business will be built on that – I think Alba could do a lot. We have doubled revenue and headcount every year. If we can maintain that we will be a big company.”

Unicorn-I, unveiled by Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken yesterday, will launch from a US spaceport, but Walkinshaw says a Scots facility is “feasible” in the future.

He said: “If you look at New Zealand, it is small but it set up its space agency in a few months. I don’t think for Scotland it’s pie in the sky.

“The question is what that will add. The Scottish Space Network, set up by Scottish Enterprise, has been really helpful for us.

“Scotland doesn’t have any responsibility for space under devolution. We can help economic activity, but we can’t do much on space policy itself. Because Scotland has got very good at space, there is a question about whether it should be more proactive about this. If we had political engagement at Holyrood it would be really beneficial. They are starting to get it, but it’s not a done deal.”