Data rich, cash poor
Or at least it was, up until NERC funding dried up, and efforts to plug the gap failed, in spite of the facility enjoying some commercial success.
A spokesperson for NERC told us that the cut had been made because it had decided "that the demand for the service currently provided by the NEODAAS Dundee Satellite Receiving Station can be met through alternative routes" following a review.
As for the University of Dundee, it professed itself "disappointed" with the NERC decision, laying the blame for the closure of the station firmly at the door of the agency and its decision to turn off the cash taps, and "move a substantial part of its service from Scotland to Plymouth".
It stated that though it had "explored different ways of saving the Station over the past year", nothing had been found that would match the £338,000 annual funding it had lost. The university worried that meeting the shortfall risked "jeopardising the university's efforts to achieve financial sustainability".
In its 2018 financial report (PDF), the university declared its principal was trousering between £270,000 and £279,000 in salary. The institution itself reported a total income of £246.6m for the year.
An insider told The Reg that more could have been done by the university to find alternative means of financing the DSRS. While the team was keen to get involved in the burgeoning small satellite business, the facility was closed before negotiations could get started in earnest. Once staff attrition was factored in, the funding gap would thus have been far less than £338k, our source claimed.
While the NERC is, of course, correct that researchers can find the same data elsewhere, collating and processing it will be time-consuming and there is no guarantee that those services will not go the same way as the DSRS.
Agencies such as NASA, for example, will be faced with some difficult budgetary choices in the drive to put American boots on the Moon once more.
The decision also seems perverse in light of predictions that Scotland's space sector could be worth £4bn by 2030 and plans to build at least one spaceport in the 2020s. The Scottish government has trumpeted the £140m brought in by over 130 space organisations in Scotland but shuffled its feet regarding the DSRS.
Scotland, the UK Space Agency told us, punches well above its weight in the space sector, with 0.29 per cent of its workforce employed in the sector, compared to 0.13 per cent across the UK. 18 per cent of all jobs in the UK sector are based north of the border.
The Register contacted Joe FitzPatrick, the Member of Scottish Parliament for Dundee City West, to see what lawmakers thought about the closure, and was told the MSP had written to principal and vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee "to seek clarity on the situation".
Best get a move on, eh? Funding ran out last month.
As for the team that ran the facility until the end of March, some will be kept on for purposes of decommissioning the equipment.
And with that, a small but significant part of British space history will come to an end. ®