ESA’s ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin, (foreground) and Russia’s stationary surface science platform, Kazachok, (background) are scheduled for launch in July 2020, arriving at Mars in March 2021. Image credit: ESA.

It’s 2020, the year by which we were promised so much. By the likes of me. So, what will 2020 actually bring for the space sector?

Let’s start by looking back. In 1997, the Futurists Peter Schwartz & Peter Leyden predicted in Wired that humans would land on Mars in the year 2020. They won’t. It always an optimistic prediction, and I’d suggest its only marginally more likely today that humans will go to Mars within the next twenty-years. But, whilst no human is going to Mars anytime soon, 2020 is starting to look like a big year for Mars exploration.

The return to flight at the end of 2019 of the Long March 5 rocket has cleared the way for any array of Chinese space…


The 31st UKSEDS National Student Space Conference was held in Edinburgh on 2 & 3 March 2019, the first time it had visited Scotland, and to open the conference I gave a State of the Nation keynote on the status of the Scottish space sector. This article extends on what I said to examine the challenge of actually achieving the Scottish government supported growth targets for the sector.

Cloud-free Scotland. Image credit: Modified Copernicus Sentinel data, processed by Sinergise/ESA

So what is the state of the nation’s space sector? Well, the conference was sold-out. So that’s a good start!

In Scotland today there are over 130 organisations that are part of the space sector, up 27% since 2016. However, this is more or less in-line with what you might expect on a pro-rata basis for the UK’s space sector; about 9% of UK’s space organisations for about 8% of the UK’s population.

Where Scotland really punches above its weight is in employment, with over 7500 space jobs, up 9% since 2016 and up 38% since 2014.

In other words…


24 & 25 January…it’s all about the service, the product, the data.

discount code for dataspace.xyz at bottom of article

As engineers we often forget that the only purpose of our spacecraft is to give the payload the environment it needs. To keep it warm, to keep it cold, to protect it from the space environment. To point it in the correct direction, and hold it stable and safe. To tell it what to do and when. To make the data or service it provides work.

That’s why two years ago we hosted the first DATA.SPACE conference to focus on the challenges that space can solve.

Too many conferences focus on ‘the widget’, with space-people talking to space-people, about space…


The successful landing of China’s Chang’e-4 robotic spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, and the return of those stunning images is an indisputable engineering success. China achieved this first, for humanity.

Yutu-2 (literally: “Jade Rabbit-2”) drives away from the Chang’e-4 lander

That other nations have chosen to not do this should not diminish China’s achievement. But equally, it shouldn’t diminish the achievements of other. Whilst China was landing on the moon, NASA was conducting humanity’s most distant ever exploration, with New Horizons at the snowman shaped Ultima Thule. At the same time NASA were inserting a spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, into orbit about the smallest asteroid ever, Bennu. Meanwhile, BepiColombo, the joint European / Japanese mission is showcasing a mastery of navigation on-route to Mercury with the most complex and challenging flight-path ever.

Missions such as these show the value of robotic spaceflight…


The below blog article was first posted on 8 August 2017 at this page on the UK Space Agency website. For completeness I am adding it here.

When asked to describe myself, I tend to say I am a professional space technology engineer, working in academia. I’ve worked in the space industry my whole career, at University of Glasgow as an undergraduate and then postgraduate student, and then as a member of research staff. I then joined SCISYS Ltd. …


Expedition 45/46 crew Tim Kopra, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake in front of Soyuz simulator. Credits: UKSA-M. Alexander

Space: Obstacles and Opportunities

Applications of space data and technology today spread far beyond traditional users and operators in sectors such as national security and telecommunications, with space having a transformational impact on sectors as diverse as forestry, agriculture and the financial markets. Indeed, the UK’s space sector has set ambitious growth targets, aiming to capture 10% of the global market by 2020, estimated to be worth £40 Billion per year.

Space is already playing a transformational role in the stewardship of our planet, allowing us to monitor the Earth’s vital statistics for signs of climate change and for severe…


Towards an Informed and Risk-Based Framework of Space Regulation and Debris

Space debris has made the headlines again recently with the crew of the International Space Station sheltering in the docked Soyuz vehicle as a fragment from a now-defunct Russian weather satellite (International Designator 1979–095AD) passed at around three kilometres distance on 16 July. This followed the stations 22nd and 23rd pre-determined debris avoidance manoeuvres in April and June this year — the April manoeuvre being to avoid another piece of debris from the same Russian weather satellite.

The European Commission estimates that economic losses for European satellite operators alone due to in-orbit collisions and debris avoidance manoeuvres amount to around…

Prof. Malcolm Macdonald ⊕

Glasgow based space technology engineer, academic, and director. spaceprof.xyz |Professor @UniStrathclyde |Director @SoX_SA. ⊕

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