THE pelters from above were, indeed, near cosmic. “Back from holiday to find that science fiction still dominates one half of Scottish politics”, harrumphed Tory MSP Adam Tomkins in a tweet 12 months ago.

The image he’d attached was a front cover from this very publication, which had mocked up an orbiting Space Shuttle with a saltire on its hull. The picture floated above this headline: “Independence and Beyond: new report outlines how an indy Scottish Space Agency and spaceport could be set up to give huge boost to our economy”.

“Quite, quite mad. Got your tinfoil hat on tonight?” posted the centre-right commentator Chris Deerin. Annie Wells MSP gravely submitted: “This has to be a spoof, surely.”

No – it was just an enthusiastic reaction to a far-sighted paper from the think-tank Common Weal. The author, engineer Craig Berry, had made a strong strategic and economic case for a Scottish Space Agency post-independence. And for a Scottish spaceport, as soon as possible, in any case.

So look, here we are – at least one Scottish spaceport has been announced this week, to be built on the starkly beautiful pennisula of A’Mhoine in Sutherland.

The SSA, in all its saltired, star-spangled, space-cadetted glory, may have to wait a wee while (for the necessary constitutional arrangements).

But for once, let us praise the panicky largesse of Westminster – desperately seeking new markets for the listing Starship Brexitannia, and also trying to keep the Jocks quiet for a bit, in one fell swoop.

For we are now about to have a bona-fide, rocket-launching facility on planet Caledonia.

Cue your Macdiarmid: “our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?” Maybe indulge in another Edwin Morgan line, from The First Men on Mercury: “Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?” Then a quick, painful slurp of Star Trek Scotty’s favourite Aldebaran whiskey.

And then, our nerd duties over, to business. To be mildly fair to our opening trio of cringers, the Sutherland facility won’t indeed involve Space Shuttle-like “horizontal” lift-offs.

Meaning airliner-like craft flying to the edge of the atmosphere, then releasing their payloads. (Newport Cornwall is the first designated for these services, and Prestwick Airport is still in the game).

Our spaceport will be old-school “vertical”. That is, they’ll be rockets containing either solid or fluid fuel, shuddering upwards on a column of fire, as the sea eagles from the nearby Handa cliffs learn to circle at a distance.

Scotland may be about to slip the surly bonds of Earth. But – somewhat in national character – the mock-ups of the facility itself look like an abandoned bit of container terminal. Still, on the way to Iain M. Banks’s mighty and artificially-intelligent GSVs (General Systems Vehicles), it is to my eyes a bonnie wee start.

What will they be taking into space? This is where propellor-hats must be laid down, and hard economics acknowledged (though still with a hint of geek idealism on the horizon). The Sutherland facility is an ideal location for launching what they call “nano-satellites” or “cube-sats”. These are much smaller versions of the usual item, sized anywhere between a pan loaf and a fridge.

Scottish-located companies like the wonderfully named (and entirely native) Clyde Space, and the US-owned Spire Global, have had to send their items overseas to be launched. They can wait months, and sometimes years, for a slot in the schedule.

Now, with “clockwork-like launches” up the road, says Spire’s Peter Platzer, “we can finally get our space sector supply chain to be truly integrated!”

Which maybe gives you another hint at the imperatives here. As they are much cheaper to get into the heavens, and operate at a low orbit, these nano-satellites could mesh their services together. Nano-sats can provide both surveillance of the earth, and enable transmissions from and to it, at a much lower cost than hitherto.

So with this, Scotland steps right into the heart of one of our next global shifts – what the tech theorists are calling an “instrumented planet”. What are the various reasons you might wish a glittering, communicating net of eyes and ears to engird the earth?

Some bend to the light, some are plunged in darkness. Of course, from up there you might wish to monitor environmental, agricultural or humanitarian-disaster conditions – the better to anticipate or respond to crisis. (Clyde Space’s devices were recently part of an early-warning system for bush fires in Australia).

Given that we are now fully responsible for the earth, in the “anthropocene” (or capitalocene, as some call it), satellites become the planet-wide tools we need to garden the place properly.

But also, of course, you might want to hurtle flows of untraceable and untaxable capital, or soul-shrivelling content, by means of these private and unaccountable devices.

There may be low deeds in low orbit. And who, these days, would trust any national security operation that inserted any of its tendrils into any of these little clusters of cube-sats?

So very quickly, as the A’Mhoine rockets’ red glare subsides, we are back down to earthly matters – of politics, power and democracy – with a bump. But why not? Space exploration has, for most of its existence, been a public and state-driven affair.

We may seem to be in a heroic moment of private space enterprise and cosmos-happy tech moguls.

With undue haste they plan their moon and Mars “colonies”, or asteroid mining operations – often before they can even get their self-driving cars to park properly. But there are still huge amounts of public money going towards Musk, Branson, Bezos and others, whether in primary research or the state commissioning of their services.

Tens of ScotGov millions have already been directed the way of the cube-sat companies previously mentioned. As Marianna Mazzucato (one of Holyrood’s own economic advisors) will often say: shouldn’t the state and its voters have some say about (never mind get a return from) the grand missions its investments serve?

It’s early days. But even the prospects of our douce wee launchpad in Sutherland allows us to bake in some standards.

That so-called “tinfoil-hat” report from Common Weal suggested that an independent Scottish Space Agency could take the lead on what the author, Craig Berry, called “federated satellite systems”.

Federated satellite systems! How constitutional! But it’s also really practical. According to the concept’s guru Alessandro Golkar, so much satellite capacity is wasted, because each satellite is narrowly tied to a client’s requirements.

If sharing deals and protocols between satellites could be agreed (or “federated”), this spare capacity could be utilised, and access to satellite services become even cheaper.

“Federating space” sounds like a very recognisably modern-Scottish way of proceeding to this next proximate (if not quite the final) frontier – done collegiately, bien sur, with our European partners.

It could be a mission for an agency that we might embrace … that is, when we finally assume we should run the entirety of our own national affairs.

However, requests to place certain representatives and pundits in sealed oil-barrels for a rough moon landing will not, unfortunately, meet the mission criteria. Sorry.