Published 09/10/2023

The Strathclyde Aerospace Innovation Society (StrathAIS) was founded in 2019 and is the University of Strathclyde's largest aerospace society, with over 80 students from across all the engineering departments at Strathclyde university. The society is entirely student led and run.

StrathAIS' mission is to act as a platform for students to grow as engineers and leaders through participating in large-scale extracurricular projects in rocketry and satellite design. Its members represent some of the university's most dedicated and enthusiastic students.

Grassroots organisations such as StrathAIS form the foundations for industry progress within Scotland and represent an incredible opportunity for event organisers to connect with motivated and talented Scottish expertise to help enrich their own events. At VisitScotland Business Events, we help to connect event professionals with local Scottish partners to create opportunities for industry expansion in Scotland.

We spoke with Kirstyn Calder, President at StrathAIS, about Scotland's rapidly expanding space industry, the incredibly innovative work of StrathAIS and its bold new project which aims to position Scotland as a global leader in the future of space sustainability.

What prompted you to form an aerospace society at the university?

We felt it was important to form an aerospace society within Strathclyde to allow students to apply learned theory to practical real-world projects. Given the rapid growth of the space industry in Scotland, we create a space for students to gain the skills required to enter this industry and contribute to the exciting work of this sector.

What work does the society do?

Initially and during COVID-19, StrathAIS entered more design-oriented competitions such as the UKSEDS Satellite design competition, the AIAA Space Systems Competition and the RAes General Aviation Competition. However, over the past two years we have shifted to practical projects which are more applicable to the industry.

Our two teams running over the course of the 2023-24 academic year are the rocketry and satellite design teams. Our rocketry team competes in the Spaceport America Cup Competition, which is the largest students' rocketry competition in the world. For this contest we design and build a high-powered rocket that we launch with the aim of reaching 10,000ft. We have competed twice, placing 23rd out of 158 teams in 2023.

For the 2024 competition we are building a smaller (level 2) rocket which will be launched in Scotland in March 2024 and one larger (level 3) rocket to be launched in New Mexico, USA for the Spaceport America Cup. StrathAIS is the only Scottish team that competes in the spaceport America cup and works hard to promote Scotland and its space industry internationally.

Our satellite design team is working on our long-term flagship project 'STRATHcube'. In collaboration with the Aerospace Centre of Excellence at the University of Strathclyde, the 'STRATHcube' project was founded in 2020 with the aim of being the first Scottish student-built satellite to address the need for sustainable and responsible use of space.

STRATHcube is a 2U CubeSat that carries two payloads; the primary payload uses passive bistatic radar to detect and track space debris as small as 10cm wide, and the secondary payload tracks and monitors how the CubeSat breaks up upon re-entry to the atmosphere. This year our team is working towards the Critical Design Review (CDR) stage and plan to apply for the ESA 'Fly your Satellite!' programme with the aim of launching STRATHcube in 2026.


STRATHcube in orbit © StrathAIS

How is the society contributing to Scotland's position as a prominent player in the global space industry?

Scotland's space industry is undergoing a rapid period of growth with the opening of five new spaceports, the development of eco-friendly rocket fuels and launch vehicles as well as the continued development of Scotland's satellite industry. Glasgow currently produces more satellites than anywhere in the world outside of California.

The StrathAIS projects directly align with the key focus areas of Scotland's space industry. We aim to increase the skills of Scotland's future workforce and drive innovation and advancement. Being the only Scottish university to compete in the Spaceport America Cup, we are representing Scotland as a prominent player in the global space industry.

The STRATHcube project is actively contributing to Space Situational Awareness which is key to achieving a sustainable and responsible space industry and contributes to Scotland's reputation as a global leader in the future of space sustainability.

Can you share some examples of ground-breaking aerospace innovations and research projects initiated by the society?

There are currently around 18,000 tracked objects in low earth orbit, and many smaller untracked debris. This creates a huge risk of a catastrophic Kessler syndrome event which is a chain reaction of satellites crashing into each other in orbit (as illustrated in the 2013 film Gravity). Because of this there is a need for a robust sustainability plan that will track and minimise the amount of debris in orbit.

Our STRATHcube project incorporates ground-breaking research and development and acts as a testbed for a space debris tracking system that could be widely scaled up to tackle the growing space debris issue.

The primary payload on board STRATHcube can track space debris as little as 10cm in width and will act as a proof of concept for the technology that can be used to actively tackle the space debris issue. The CubeSat is 'designed for demise' meaning that at the end of its mission it will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up, which is when our secondary payload kicks in: sensors will monitor how the CubeSat breaks up during re-entry and will provide vital information that will help ensure that future satellites can be designed in such a way that they fully burn up in the atmosphere at the end of their mission and avoid becoming another piece of space debris.

World Space Week emphasises the peaceful use of space for the benefit of all humankind. How does the society align with this mission?

StrathAIS actively collaborates with leading aerospace companies in Scotland (such as SaxaVord Spaceport and Spirit AeroSystems) as well as the University of Strathclyde Engineering faculties and the Aerospace Centre of Excellence to maximise collaboration in the industry and raise awareness of potential future aerospace career paths for students.

Our team hopes to expand our aerospace network and create sponsorship and collaboration agreements with more companies.

How does the society engage with the rest of the university, local communities and schools to inspire the next generation of Scottish space enthusiasts and professionals?

StrathAIS ran a session at the Scottish space school program held by Strathclyde university in 2023, this event is for fifth year students in Scotland with an interest in engineering and space. The society also has plans for this academic year to visit schools to help inspire a new generation to choose a career in engineering and aerospace.

We also run our annual Aerospace Networking Night in May each year, bringing together other engineering societies at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities as well as leading companies in the Scottish industry and providing an opportunity for networking between students and industry.

To find out more about The Strathclyde Aerospace Innovation Society (StrathAIS) visit