DANIEL Smith had just won a dream contract with the European Space Agency when his Ukrainian wife, Natalia, went into labour with their baby daughter.

At the same time, his business partner in the Edinburgh-based AstroAgency was having to flee Ukraine with her one-year-old son and mother because of the Russian invasion, while his in-laws were stuck in Donbas and couldn’t make it to Kyiv to pick up their visas for the UK – an issue that was raised by Smith’s MP, Joanna Cherry, at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Smith’s mother and father-in-law eventually made it out of Ukraine after driving to Estonia through Russia in a car with Ukrainian number plates “which wasn’t ideal”.

“When your baby is born, it is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, but I was on the phone trying to find out what was happening to the rest of the family,” Smith told the Sunday National. Along with business partner, Dasha Filichkina, he was also involved in trying to help those remaining in Ukraine.

“I was suddenly finding myself on army supply websites looking for things like tourniquets, buying them in bulk and sending them to Poland where they would get picked up and taken to Dnipro,” he said.

The National:

“We had just won a contract with the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centres across the UK so that was a challenge as we’d landed the client we had dreamed of on top of around 30 other space clients and this all happened. I was wondering how on earth I could look after it all. It was a crazy few months.”

However, the young company not only managed to keep going but now has 50 commercial space clients and also works with seven national governments, including the UK Space Agency, and is promoting Scotland’s efforts to develop its space industry in a sustainable manner.

Along the way, AstroAgency has raised £35,000 for an Edinburgh charity helping Ukrainian refugee children and is currently supporting the building of a sadly necessary bomb shelter underneath a nursery in Zaporizhzhia.

In addition, Filichkina has just been awarded the prestigious Sir Arthur Clarke Award for her role in the company’s success, amid the enormous personal challenges she has faced.

Smith has previously been nominated for the award because of his efforts to promote sustainability in the space sector.

The strategic marketing agency recently helped produce the world’s first space sustainability roadmap with Glasgow-based partners Optimat, after bringing together representatives from the industry, the Scottish Government and academia.

The work was delivered for Space Scotland, a not-for-profit industry body for the sector, which Smith helped formalise in 2021. The group has a dedicated Environmental Task Force with more than 20 member companies.

“I noticed that a lot of interesting things were happening in Scotland such as the development of green launch fuels and spaceports looking to offset all their emissions and use low-carbon infrastructure,” Smith said.

“Then there are all the benefits for the environment that space data companies are providing so I worked with a co-chair, Kristina Tamane, to pull together stakeholders across the industry and started to engage with environmental groups, as we realised that if we wanted to do it properly, we had to speak to the biggest critics.

“I think this is a distinguishing factor for Scotland – we can lead by example internationally because we are still developing our industry so we can build sustainability into it from the beginning,” Smith pointed out. However, there is also the problem of space debris and “junk” in orbit. Many of the older and now defunct bits of space kit could easily hit working satellites and cause almost unimaginable problems for daily life on Earth.

“There are a lot of satellites up there that we use every single day for all sorts of things like financial transactions, internet, weather forecasting, ordering a takeaway or a taxi,” said Smith.

“If old ones are to hit others, we could lose all of that and suddenly our lives would change in ways none of us can imagine. The space station has already had to move because of debris created when Russia shot down one of their own satellites to show the world what it could do.

“It’s another serious issue in space sustainability so we are trying to contribute to that conversation too but in terms of space sustainability on the ground, countries around the world are noticing what is going on in Scotland.”

Although AstroAgency was only launched in 2019, Smith and Filichkina have long experience in the space industry and the pair met through their work. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Smith had invited her to join him in the company, which he set up to promote all the innovations in the space sector.

“I noticed all the amazing inspirational activity in Scotland such as data companies that are using satellites to fight forest fires, track illegal fishing or soil moisture to prevent landslides and the most incredible applications you can think of,” said Smith.

“There are also more satellites being built in Glasgow than anywhere else outside the US but there was no service company promoting why so many are being built so I decided to set one up.”

AstroAgency became the first dedicated marketing company for the space sector in the world, although others have since followed.

“We have the marketing and technical knowledge within our team to be able to figure out target audiences for clients,” explained Smith.

“Rocket companies are looking to find satellite companies, while data companies are looking to find all sorts of sectors that can use their knowledge, whether it’s agriculture, energy or mining.”

Not long after AstroAgency was set up, the UK went into lockdown but rather than sit back and do nothing, Smith created an online SpaceBar for people in the sector to network and find jobs or investment. It quickly became popular, with even astronauts like Tim Peake dropping in for a chat. It is still going strong with all of the talks now on YouTube and the 70th due to go out this month.

The idea won Smith his first nomination for an Arthur Clarke Award – but he’s quick to point out that Filichkina went one better by winning the coveted prize.

“It’s fantastic for her as a young Ukrainian woman supporting the UK sector to be recognised alongside previous winners such as Sir Patrick Moore, various astronauts and leading scientists,” he said.

The determination of everyone in the company to keep growing and improving – there are still three members of staff based in Ukraine – has seen them not just survive but actually thrive. Next year it is intended to capitalise on the progress already made by opening up another office outside the UK.

“Having an office outside the UK will show we are global,” said Smith.

“Last year was tough – our amazing team got us through but we had to spend huge amounts of money we wouldn’t normally have spent on additional resource and support. But this year we passed our 50th client mark and then won more contracts from space companies and governments around the world, so it’s all on an upward trajectory.”