At the start of the month, I visited Ayrshire College to meet the new principal, Angela Cox, and chair, Fiona McQueen, who I know well from her days in the NHS, to discuss the college’s courses in skills for aerospace and space jobs.

This is vital with the on-going development of Prestwick Spaceport and the announcement that satellite network developer Mangata will build a satellite R&D and manufacturing hub at the aerospace park.

It is so important we equip our young people to take advantage of the opportunities these will bring, which is why it is great to see initiatives such as the UK Youth Rocketry challenge. I recently met the winners of the 2022 competition at Westminster where they explained how they designed and built their rocket, including some 3D-printed components, and I have encouraged local schools to sign up for this year’s challenge.

The following week, I had the privilege of travelling out to Houston to give a talk on Scotland’s burgeoning space sector and take part in a series of meetings and workshops. Whilst there, I was given a tour of both the Johnson Space Centre, which was Mission Control for the Apollo program, and Houston Spaceport as well as visiting innovative space companies.

Seeing astronauts training in the gigantic neutral buoyancy pool and the test firing on an engine, which will be part of the next lunar landing, was truly fascinating.

While Scotland’s space industry is based on the launch of small satellites, rather than manned exploration, it further fuelled my anticipation in terms of what can be developed at Prestwick Spaceport, which already has a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MOU) with Houston.

I also visited San Jacinto College’s EDGE Training Centre which offers aerospace skills training and a pathway to exciting careers in the aerospace industry. The college is the official education training partner for the Houston Spaceport, and I hope I can play a part in reigniting their connection with Ayrshire College, as such educational and industrial links will become increasingly important as the sector develops locally.

In Parliament, having been appointed Scotland spokesperson for the SNP Westminster group in December, I now sit on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which scrutinises the work of the Scotland Office and examines UK Government policies and legislation that directly impact on Scotland.

The range of subject areas this covers is, of course, extremely wide and currently the committee is conducting six inquiries covering an array of issues, including public broadcasting, military shipbuilding and hydrogen production.

At the end of January, members travelled to St Andrews to meet with academics and students as part of our evidence gathering for the committee’s inquiries into promoting Scotland internationally and Scotland’s strategic role in the defence of the Arctic and High North.

It was interesting to hear from international experts, based in Scotland, about the University’s work in these areas. It was also fascinating to hear from some of the University’s international students, including two young women from Ukraine, about what had attracted them to come to Scotland to study in the first place and what they thought of Scotland now they were here.

It was clear that many had based their decision on the personal recommendations of family and friends who had studied here which highlights the importance of the ‘academic diaspora’ – people who study in Scotland and maintain a fond connection in their future lives.

With regard to their experience once here, it was gratifying to hear that, apart from their praise for the University itself, the commonest theme was how welcoming and friendly they found Scottish people.