Out of this world space challenge for students

A Raptor Aerospace Kestrel-100LD rocket was successfully launched at MACC last year.
A Raptor Aerospace Kestrel-100LD rocket was successfully launched at MACC last year.

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More than £70,000 in public sector funding will help to promote Machrihanish as a launch point in Scotland’s emerging space sector.

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 are expected to attend the event, which is taking place from July 14-16.

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 an altitude of 500 metres from Machrihanish Airbase Business Park 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.

Involvement from the community is encouraged, with an opportunity for school workshops and the chance for people 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 (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) further and higher education.

The funding will help set up a facility capable of low altitude rocket launch at MACC, demonstrating the business park’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, creating 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 10 kilometres, in addition to CanSats.

Councillor Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute 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.’

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 with 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.’