A SCOTTISH national space agency and a national spaceport would make an independent Scotland a world leader in the space sector, a new report has claimed.

To be that world leader, Scotland needs to develop the national infrastructure necessary to support a burgeoning industry, according to the report by Common Weal think tank.

The problem at the moment is that space is a joint civil and defence jurisdiction, and is currently a reserved matter to Westminster.

READ MORE: Craig Dalzell: We’re on the cusp of another revolution – and the space sector could cement Scotland's place at its heart

“The future development of Scotland’s space sector is therefore precarious,” says Common Weal.

The UK Government has still not decided on the location for a spaceport, and Common Weal argue it should be in Scotland.

The report, written by electrical design engineer Craig Berry, argues that a Scottish Space Agency and spaceport could be two crucial parts of developing the Scottish space sector, which is worth £134 million and is a disproportionately large part of the UK space industry.

Such a spaceport “would be the only one of its kind in Europe, [and] would provide a major boost to the local economy of the dedicated site in which it was located through increased employment and economic activity. An estimate for the potential of a spaceport is between 490-550 extra jobs and £60-100 million in additional economic activity.”

Some 7000 employees out of a UK space workforce of 38,500, amounting to 18 per cent of the total, are located north of the Border.

The Scottish space sector has a particular strength in small satellites, with Glasgow recently selling the largest number of satellites of any European city.

However, Berry argues that the sector’s continued progress could be halted by a lack of investment and infrastructure development at government level. Research and development as a percentage of total income from the sector has dropped from 90 per cent in 2012-13 to just three per cent today, a funding fall which well outstrips the pace of growth in the sector.

Berry argues that a Scottish Space Agency could act as the key co-ordinator within the sector and he identifies advances needed in co-operation and connectivity between different small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector in Scotland.

The agency could steer research and development in the right direction and strengthen manufacturing capacity. This would include a federated satellite system which would pool resources to improve efficiency in Scotland’s strong nanosatellite market.

Common Weal Director Robin McAlpine said: “In recent years Scotland has discussed many new areas in which we could carve out a substantial new industry sector, but few have really developed into a serious of Scottish-owned businesses which could transform our economy.

“Once again we have an opportunity to expand further our stake in the global space industry. Will we make the most of this one?

“A national strategy along with more devolution of responsibility backed by a Scottish National Investment Bank could make all the difference.”

Commenting on the report Craig Dalzell, head of research at Common Weal, said: “In an increasingly connected world, the space industry represents a lynchpin in the global economy. This paper clearly demonstrates that Scotland is well placed to leverage our engineering and scientific reputation to become a leader in this sector but to do so will require foresight, investment and solid economic planning.

“Should Scotland and/or the UK wish to take on the challenge the benefits of investing in a Scottish Space Agency will be wide-ranging.”

London Economics, a leading independent economic consultancy based in London, compiled a report on prospects for the Scottish space industry last year. It suggested that Scotland’s share of the current space economy in the UK was around 11.7 per cent.

Rasmus Flytkjær, Senior Economic Consultant with the firm, while not wishing to comment on political matters, said London Economics stood by its research based on the current situation, particularly Scotland’s record on attracting students on space-related courses.

He wrote: “Scotland’s success at attracting students for space-relevant university studies, and the fact that 78 per cent of Scottish graduates have been found to remain in Scotland after graduation, suggest that Scottish space organisations will be able to attract and retain qualified staff at a slightly better rate than the 9.2 per cent of the UK. In summary, Scotland’s achievable share of the UK space economy by 2030 is suggested to be nine per cent excluding activity expected in the case Scotland is selected to host the UK spaceport.

“If the UK spaceport were to be located in Scotland, the country’s space economy could be expected to amount to 10 per cent of the UK total.”