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Argyll and Bute space challenge for students

Published: 11/05/2021

An innovative competition in Argyll that will give students the opportunity to get involved in Scotland’s emerging space sector, has secured more than £70,000 public sector match funding.

Morag Goodfellow, HIE Argyll and Islands area manager

Argyll and Bute Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have each awarded £36,985 to a joint venture between Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC) and UK Launch Services Limited (UKLSL) for the Mach-21 CanSat competition and Space Careers Conference.

Eleven university teams from across the UK – up to 150 people – are expected to attend the event, which is taking place over three days in July. Teams will be challenged to design and build simulations of satellites the size of soft drinks cans.

Known as ‘CanSats, these will be launched up to 500m altitude from Machrihanish Airbase using low-altitude rockets provided by Raptor Aerospace. The launch will put components, materials and processes to the test and be judged by an expert panel.

Students will also get an insight into working in the UK space industry through career talks and workshops.

Similar competitions in the USA are currently suspended, and unlikely to resume for attended launch events in 2021. Therefore, the chance for students to launch from Scotland is a fantastic opportunity to attract UK participants and raise the profile of Kintyre within the industry.

Involvement from the local community will be highly encouraged, with an opportunity for school workshops and the chance for local residents to attend the event subject to COVID and safety restrictions.

There will be opportunities to speak to industry representatives and meet visitors to Argyll and Bute, particularly those involved in STEM Further and Higher Education.

The funding from the council and HIE will help set up a facility capable of low altitude rocket launch at MACC. This will demonstrate MACC’s suitability as a launch point on the Scottish mainland.

It will be the first step in establishing the former military base as a Spaceport, specialising in payload launches via suborbital, small scale rockets.

Mach-21 will pave the way for more student launch opportunities at Machrihanish Airbase, allowing for strong connections between the site and UK universities.

The event is expected to lead to student designed rocket launches in 2022. This will allow students to build and launch their own small sounding rockets up to an altitude of 10km, in addition to CanSats.

Morag Goodfellow, HIE area manager for Argyll and the Islands, said:

“The space sector is one of emerging growth for the UK, and a great opportunity for the Highlands and Islands. Making the most of this requires fresh thinking and innovation through engagement of the next generation of experts. That’s what this event is all about. It will give students a great practical insight into the industry, and hopefully inspire many of them to pursue STEM careers. It will also raise the profile of Kintyre within the industry as an excellent location for future space related activity. I am very pleased we are able to support this project by MACC, which itself has a key role in the development of the Kintyre economy.”

Councillor Robin Currie, Leader of the council, said:

“We’re delighted to support the competition, not least because our contribution will have a lasting community benefit.

“Once again, MACC is raising the profile of the area with a cutting-edge, innovative project. The competition will bring the brightest minds to the area and this I hope will inspire some of our young people to reach for the stars with their career plans.

“As we plan for post-pandemic recovery we will seize every opportunity to attract investment and jobs to Argyll and Bute – especially high-value employment. This competition is a great way of showcasing South Kintyre to exactly the businesses we want to see here.”

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