UK spacecraft engineering firm boldly goes into the world of employee ownership

Aerospace firm STAR-Dundee, whose tech has been used on dozens of spacecraft, has been transferred to staff by former CEO Steve Parkes

STAR-Dundee, a world-leading provider of onboard technology for spacecraft, has just completed its transition to employee ownership.

The company, which designs electronic components and test equipment for spacecraft, was spun out from the University of Dundee in 2002 and provides international space agencies with specialist equipment.

Technology that originated in Dundee is now being used on more than 100 spacecraft which are monitoring the Earth, exploring nearby planets and asteroids, mapping our galaxy and sensing the further-flung parts of the solar system. The company works with NASA, the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency, Russian space agency RosCosmos and others.

And now it has taken another giant leap with the move to employee-ownership, to secure its long-term future.

Co-founder Steve Parkes wanted to guarantee the company’s future

Its founder and former majority owner, Prof Steve Parkes, said: “Having formed STAR-Dundee and forged it over 15 years into a company with a worldwide reputation, I realised that I was not going to be around to see it through the next 15 years.

“It became clear that the future for the company was about the people in the company that had helped make it a success and the culture that we had developed to support that success. Selling the company to another organisation, which would inevitably change the culture and might even move it from its Dundee base, was not a very attractive idea.

“Employee ownership retains and strengthens the culture and will ensure that it always has a base in Dundee.”

The transition was facilitated by a succession planning project initiative by Scottish Enterprise.

It is the latest step in the development of the company, which was formed after several organisations wanted to use tech developed at the University of Dundee.

It has grown from a small academic research team working in their spare time to a company employing 25 people with offices in Dundee and Barcelona.

The management team has been restructured with Prof Parkes now focusing on technology development as chief technology officer, and co-founder Stuart Mills, the former chief operating officer, becoming CEO. Carole Carrie, the administration manager, is now company secretary.

Among STAR-Dundee’s innovations is the ‘SpaceWire’ network technology which interconnects sensors and electronic equipment onboard a spacecraft, providing an efficient and versatile means of integrating the equipment together. This is similar to the way in which USB connects devices to a laptop.

A new technology, SpaceFibre, is being launched by the company. Developed over the past ten years, it is designed for high-performance, high-availability applications. SpaceFibre is designed primarily for spacecraft applications but is creating interest in the robotics, medical equipment and other industries where performance and availability are critical drivers.

Stuart Mills, STAR-Dundee’s new CEO, said: “STAR-Dundee has been a great success because of its people. Our move to employee ownership allows these individuals to have a greater say in the running of the company and to further benefit from the company’s success.”

Sarah Deas, director at Co-operative Development Scotland, the arm of Scottish Enterprise that supports company growth through collaborative and employee ownership business models, added: “STAR-Dundee’s main priorities when considering its succession options were to secure and strengthen the business, both in terms of its culture and success, and also to ensure the business remains rooted in Dundee.

“All of these objectives have been achieved through employee ownership as well as making sure the staff all have a meaningful stake in their company and its future success.”

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