MPs shown Scottish-made ‘unicorn’ satellite at committee meeting

Tom Walkinshaw, of Alba Orbital, took one of his company’s Unicorn-2 products to the House of Commons.

MPs shown Scottish-made ‘unicorn’ satellite at committee meeting PA Media

MPs have been shown a Scottish-made “unicorn” satellite as they heard from companies in the country’s space sector.

Tom Walkinshaw, CEO of the Glasgow-based satellite manufacturer Alba Orbital, brought one of his company’s Unicorn-2 products to the House of Commons to show members of the Scottish Affairs Committee.

The company specialises in making “picosatellites” which weigh less than one kilogram.

It has launched 41 of them so far, including 15 Unicorns built in Glasgow, with the rest being from partners around the world.

The company was started by Mr Walkinshaw from his bedroom and has grown rapidly, recently raising money through the Y Combinator venture capital process which has linked some of the US’s largest technology companies with investors.

Along with Steve Greenland of Craft Prospect Ltd, Mr Walkinshaw gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday as part of its inquiry into the Scottish space sector.

Showing the Unicorn-2 to the committee at the start of the hearing, Mr Walkinshaw said it had been “fun” taking it past the Commons’ security.

Committee convener Pete Wishart said: “It’s probably the first time a satellite has ever been produced at a Westminster select committee.

“So congratulations, a trailblazer in that regard.”

The Unicorn-2 is named after Scotland’s national animal and can feature a camera for Earth observation missions and pop-out solar panels, with the Alba Orbital founder saying “it’s a fully functional little satellite that does everything a bigger satellite can do, but in a smaller form factor”.

However, larger satellite are able to use cameras with higher definition, he said.

Discussing how the Scottish space sector received support from governments, Mr Walkinshaw said the burden of audit requirements from the European Space Agency was one of the reasons they were forced to go to the US for venture capital funding.

Alba Orbital carries out its satellite licencing process in Germany, he said, describing the UK’s regulatory system for satellites as “out of date”.

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