Shock as Scotland’s satellite station closes down after 40 years
Scotland’s only satellite ground station, which for 40 years collected images from space and shared them around the world, has closed down after funding was pulled and services transferred to the south of England.
Founders of Dundee Satellite Receiving Station described the decision to close the centre, which is part of Dundee University, as “shortsighted” and a loss to both city and country.
The station has long collected satellite images and data on extreme weather events, environment, atmosphere and marine activity from several satellites circling the planet.
The closure comes as Scotland’s space industry gains momentum with supporters claiming the station could play an important role in supporting developments in this field.
Dr John Brush, on of the founders of DSRS said the station shared data with a ‘very large’ number of organisations and individuals with many concerned about the loss of service.
Dr Brush said: “At a time when climate change and environmental issues are major concerns, the loss of a facility that has supported UK and European scientists for many years and is internationally recognised makes no sense and is a loss to Dundee and Scotland.
“The Dundee station’s reputation is built on its reliability, ability to supply data from satellites extremely quickly, and its extensive archive which is one of the most comprehensive and easily accessible collections of satellite data for users.”
The station closed at the end of March, with the loss of six jobs, after annual funding of £338,000 was pulled by National Environment Research Council, which supports services for the scientific community.
After the funding decision was made, the Dundee team produced a plan which would charge users for data in order to boost income.
Dr Brush added: “The plan would also see the station support small satellites in future, which is a rapidly growing part of the space industry.
“Scotland hopes to be a major player in this area with many satellites built and launched here, but it will also need ground station support for them.
“As currently the only established ground station in the country, Dundee would be ideally placed to play a part. This plan could at the very least have been given a trial period.
“Unfortunately Dundee University management have decided that it is not a good idea and so the station has officially been closed.”
Dr Brush said the station could be run for less than £250,000 a year. The future of the “fantastic” archive of satellite data, which has been built up over 40 years, is unknown.
Dr Brush added: “This all seems very short-sighted and the cost to build a new facility elsewhere has been estimated at £5million with Dundee losing out if this were allowed to occur.”
Dundee University said the NERC decision to terminate funding for DSRS was “disappointing” with a substantial part of its service moved from Scotland to Plymouth.
A spokesman said the university was “not in a position” to match the £338,000 funding the organisation provided but that alternatives were sought in a bid to save the station.
He said: “An internal consultation was carried out to try and identify an alternative business model but none was found that would have covered the shortfall resulting from the loss of NERC funding without further jeopardising the University’s efforts to achieve financial sustainability.
“DSRS has provided 40 years of service to the UK and to the international academic community and we regret that we were unable to find a way of allowing the Station to continue its work and to preserve the jobs of those who worked there.
“All staff affected have now been placed in our redeployment portal and are being supported in trying to find alternative positions within the University.”
A NERC spokeswoman said it recently reviewed the portfolio of services it commissioned to provide scientific capabilities across the UK.
She added: “The vision underpinning this was to create a portfolio of fewer, larger and more innovative facilities that align to a strong current and future demand from the UK environmental science community.
“As part of this thorough evaluation process, the NEODAAS Dundee Satellite Receiving Station was reviewed by an independent panel providing recommendations to NERC on scientific need, demand and accessibility of services elsewhere in the UK.
“On the basis of this, we concluded that the demand for the service currently provided by the NEODAAS Dundee Satellite Receiving Station can be met through alternative routes. As such, NERC will no longer continue to fund the SRS at Dundee.”