ATTRACTING the budding UK space industry to Shetland is a major part of the isles’ strategy to create at least 600 new jobs over the next ten years, according to the local authority’s chief executive Maggie Sandison.
And building a satellite tracking and communication centre on the island of Unst could be the lever to eventually providing high speed broadband as well a better ferry and/or fixed links to the North Isles.
Speaking from Aberdeen Airport on her journey back to the isles from the Farnborough Airshow on Wednesday, Sandison was adamant that Shetland Islands Council (SIC) had not been asked to put any money towards the venture.
She said it would be wrong for the council not to be involved in this “entirely new area of growth in Scotland and in Shetland”.
“This is unlocking new potential for our communities and that is why it is so important for the SIC to be involved in this,” she said.
On Wednesday, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Shetland Space Centre, global aerospace company Lockheed Martin and the SIC, committing the three partners to work together to create a satellite tracking station on the island of Unst.
“It is about the growth opportunities; Shetland is clearly the best place for this to happen, and it is important that the council is showing that it is interested in new areas of development.”
Shetland has a long history of working successfully with major industries such as the oil and gas sector, Sandison said.
“For Shetland and the North Isles this unlocks opportunities for better connectivity of all kinds,” she added.
“For Unst we are looking at the potential of a growing population and the impact that will have on their ability to have better communication links and better transport links – and it would be wrong for the council to not be promoting economic development in the most remote areas in our community.
“I certainly think that this will prioritise provision for broadband for this area, clearly if we can demonstrate that satellite data can be taken down from Unst more quickly, then putting in the right infrastructure is a national priority.”
Describing the initial partnership agreement as a “really big, really positive step”, she said that creating a satellite tracking centre was the quickest thing that could get off the ground.
“It allows Shetland to become part of space straight away,” Sandison said.
“If Unst’s location works for satellite tracking and data collection, then it also works for satellite launches, but that is something that isn’t included in this commitment because, clearly, there is another site elsewhere being explored for that.
“But what we are saying is that we actually don’t need the government grant to go ahead with a licence, and that is not stopping people from considering licensing Unst for launch too.”