The British government clearly sees the space industry as an emerging and potentially lucrative investment.

It’s an industry that contributes £11 billion annually to the British economy and throughout the recession it continued to grow by 7% every year.

In a bid to continue this growth, politicians in Westminster say they want to have a spaceport built in Britain by 2018 and this week unveiled 8 potential sites.

However six of the locations suggested happen to be in Scotland - a country in the grip of deciding if it wants to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

On one hand a vote for independence could mean Scotland misses out on lucrative investment if the British Government moves its spaceport elsewhere.

On the other, an independent Scotland could manage its own future space programme and break away from the UK Space Agency altogether.

Dr Malcolm Macdonald from the Strathclyde Space Institute at Strathclyde University believes an independent Scotland could earn more alone than it would within the United Kingdom.

“If Scotland were to be an independent member of the European Space Agency then potentially there is a significant amount of money that could be returned to the Scottish space sector in the medium term. You could be looking at as much as 15-20 million pounds per year to the Scottish space sector.”

An independent Scotland could miss out on funds available to full members of the European Space Agency if it breaks from the Union and it would also have to establish its own operating framework.

The British Government has already warned that thousands of shipyard jobs would be lost after a Yes vote because defense ­contracts would not be offered to Scotland if it left the UK.

The fate of the Scottish space industry could foreseeably go the same way.

Stuart Martin, the CEO of Catapult Satellite Applications – a British company that works with investors to create satellite technology, thinks Scotland will struggle to cope on its own.

“I think it would certainly slow down their growth rate whilst the Scottish government worked out a space policy because it doesn’t have a space agency. At the moment it is all a single UK space agency so there would be something of a hiatus while that all got sorted out. Because of the scale of Scotland I think it would struggle to get the scale of support it currently gets.”

With just two months to go before a referendum on independence, it’s hard not to see Scotland’s future within the British space industry as another topic for political bargaining and ask if Scotland’s place in the UK Space Agency is being used for political leverage.

On Tuesday Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander hinted that Scotland could become a key player in the UK Government’s future plans.

In an announcement from the Farnborough Airshow he hailed the space industry as one of the Union’s great success stories and said that Scotland would play an integral role within its future. 

The Scottish Government has however argued that Scotland is at the cusp of the UK space industry already and has a homegrown, successful domestic industry of its own.

They say that independence would lead to a greater development of the country’s space industry and this week hailed the success of the UKube-1 satellite built entirely in Scotland.

With both sides of the Yes or No vote on independence arguing that their vision for Scotland is better than the other, where could this leave external investors from outside the United Kingdom?

Would, for example, an independent Scotland be a more attractive place for companies like Virgin Galactic to do business?

Dr Malcolm Macdonald from the Strathclyde Space Institute doesn’t think the outcome of the referendum will matter. He told VoR: “Given that the space sector is so naturally international, I don’t think Scotland being separate or part of the UK would really be the defining factor. You would be looking at much broader issues, such as membership in the EU, European Space Agency, free movement of labour and that sort of things.”

The British government says they hope to capitalise on the growth of the space industry and capture 10 percent of the global space market by 2030 by investing up to £40 billion.

Whether or not Scotland will see a portion of that investment looks to depend greatly on the outcome of the referendum on the 18th of September.

(VoR)