OurSky Gets $9.5 Million to Integrate API into Open-Source Astronomy

  • OurSky’s Vision: OurSky, a startup, aims to democratize access to space observational data through a global telescope network and developer platform.
  • Seed Funding: OurSky has closed a $9.5 million seed funding round led by Upfront Ventures, Oceans Ventures, Venrex Investment Management, Marlinspike Partners, and Embedded Ventures.
  • AWS for Space Data: CEO Dan Roelker likens OurSky to AWS for developers, providing an easy-to-use platform for accessing and processing space observational data without the need for a personal telescope network.
  • Modern, Cost-Effective Solution: OurSky positions itself as a modern and cost-effective alternative to existing platforms, offering development tools and open APIs suitable for various space-related companies, from startups to satellite operators.
  • Telescope Network Expansion: OurSky plans to build the world’s largest telescope network by incorporating scopes it owns, professional amateur scopes, and those from the broader amateur community. Currently, it has 30 scopes in nine locations globally.
  • Strategic Growth and Capital Efficiency: With 15 employees, OurSky plans to expand to 20 in six months. The startup emphasizes strategic growth and capital efficiency to navigate the evolving market for space observation applications over the next one to two years.
OurSky Co-founders Dan Roelker and Alex Hawkinson (Credit: OurSky; Decrypt)
OurSky Co-founders Dan Roelker and Alex Hawkinson (Credit: OurSky; Decrypt)

OurSky, a technology company headquartered in Southern California, is paving the way for amateur astronomers to leverage artificial intelligence and open-source technology in their celestial observations. On Monday, the company marked a significant milestone by unveiling the beta version of its telescope network connected via API, following a successful seed funding round that garnered nearly $10 million in support.

OurSky: $9.5M Seed Round Fuels Open-Source Space Revolution

Established in 2021 by founders Dan Roelker and Alex Hawkinson, OurSky, based in Los Angeles, recently disclosed the closure of a substantial $9.5 million seed round. This funding was secured through investments from prominent entities such as Upfront Ventures, Oceans Ventures, Venrex Investment Management, Marlinspike Partners, and Embedded Ventures.

Alex Hawkinson, co-founder and chairman of OurSky, highlighted the distinctiveness of the company’s achievement, stating, “What OurSky has done is really unique – we made the sky respond to an API request.” He further explained the groundbreaking capability of making API requests for data, obtaining real-time information from a global array of telescopes, and empowering developers to utilize these APIs for diverse applications. This, he believes, will unlock a wealth of data and create substantial opportunities in the field. (Interview Given to Decrypt)

Democratizing space exploration, OurSky co-founder and CEO, Dan Roelker, has announced the company’s commitment to open-source technology. This move, he emphasized, is not just about one company’s achievements but rather about fostering collaboration and inclusivity in the pursuit of advancing artificial intelligence (AI) models and solving diverse problems related to space.

Open-source technology enables collaborative development, allowing numerous contributors to add, modify, and enhance software collectively. This approach is expected to result in more robust, innovative, and widely adopted technologies.

Roelker shared insights into OurSky’s current initiatives, revealing that the company currently operates 55 telescopes spread across 20 locations. These telescopes are dedicated to tracking objects in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and beyond. The CEO expressed enthusiasm for involving amateurs in their network, encouraging them to share observational data. This data, collected from amateur astronomers worldwide, will contribute to collective discoveries and enhance the tracking of space debris.

He further disclosed plans to release amateur plugins compatible with popular open-source platforms. This strategic move aims to involve passionate amateur astronomers in collaborative citizen science projects, allowing them to actively participate in tracking celestial objects and contributing to various space-related applications.

As OurSky inches closer to the release of these amateur plugins, the company anticipates a surge in collaborative efforts, transforming stargazing into a collective endeavor that transcends geographical boundaries. This open-source approach aligns with the company’s vision of creating a space exploration community where individuals with diverse ideas can leverage OurSky’s platform to build and enhance AI models dedicated to solving complex challenges in the realm of space science.

Citizen Scientists and the Power of Collaboration in Space Exploration

In the spirit of the open-source model, OurSky’s visionary move towards public collaboration extends beyond technology to embrace the concept of citizen science. Citizen science involves individuals from the general public actively participating in scientific research endeavors, amplifying data collection and analysis capabilities. This collaborative approach enables amateur astronomers to play a pivotal role in aiding scientists with the processing of vast datasets that would otherwise be challenging to manage independently.

The term “citizen science” was coined in the 1990s, but the practice itself has deep historical roots, with the public contributing to scientific research for decades. A striking example is the case of Scott Tilley, a Canadian amateur radio operator who, in 2018, rediscovered a long-lost or “zombie” satellite known as IMAGE. This significant find allowed NASA to reestablish contact with the satellite, which had lost communication more than a decade earlier.

The impact of citizen science extends beyond rediscovering lost satellites. Between 2015 and 2016, a collective effort by citizen scientists led to the reporting of 30 sightings of unusual purple lights in the sky. This enigmatic phenomenon, affectionately named “Steve” by enthusiasts, was decoded by researchers from the Aurorasaurus project. They revealed that Steve stands for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. Initially a mystery, Steve’s secrets were unraveled through the collaboration of ground-based observations and satellite data, providing valuable insights into the complex magnetic interactions occurring in Earth’s atmosphere.

The OurSky initiative aligns with the rich history of citizen science, inviting amateur astronomers to actively contribute to the collective understanding of celestial bodies and space-related phenomena. By leveraging the power of community engagement, OurSky aims to transform stargazing into a shared experience that not only fosters scientific discovery but also strengthens the bond between enthusiasts and the vast wonders of the cosmos. As the release of amateur plugins draws near, the potential for groundbreaking discoveries and contributions from citizen scientists becomes increasingly promising in the realm of space exploration.

OurSky’s Future Plans: Merging Astronomy with Artificial Intelligence

Although OurSky has exciting plans to include artificial intelligence (AI) in its platform, as of now, the company hasn’t introduced AI integration. According to Hawkinon, a representative from OurSky, the company aims to incorporate an undisclosed AI model into its platform by early 2024.

The integration of AI in astronomy is gaining momentum as astronomers seek to harness the power of this emerging technology to develop more advanced tools for exploring the vast cosmos. AI has become a valuable asset across various industries, and its application in astronomy holds the promise of creating more robust and expansive tools for studying celestial phenomena.

In a notable development in October, scientists and astronomers from Northwestern University, the University of Technology at California, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Minnesota demonstrated the successful use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. They employed these technologies to identify and classify a supernova in real-time, showcasing the potential of AI in advancing our understanding of celestial events.

NASA has also embraced AI to enhance its capabilities in monitoring and exploring space. The agency has integrated AI technology into the development of the 2027 Grace Roman Telescope mission, marking a significant step toward the future of space observation.

Dr. Dominic Benford, the Program Scientist for the Nancy Grace Roman mission, emphasized the transformative nature of AI in shaping our perspective of the universe. He highlighted that the tools required to process the vast amount of data from missions like Roman are not the conventional tools of the past but rather innovative solutions designed to meet the unique challenges posed by the wealth of information gathered.

As OurSky prepares to incorporate AI into its stargazing platform, the convergence of astronomy and artificial intelligence continues to unfold as a driving force behind advancements in space exploration and understanding the mysteries of the cosmos. The upcoming integration of AI models promises to usher in a new era of exploration, pushing the boundaries of our knowledge about the universe.

OurSky’s Growth Strategy: Building a Global Stargazing Network

As it stands, OurSky boasts ownership of 30 telescopes strategically deployed across nine locations worldwide, with approximately 35 amateur astronomers already part of its expanding network. In an effort to entice amateur stargazers, OurSky is offering various incentives, clarifying that its goal is not to monetize the amateur community. These incentives include providing free access to sophisticated capabilities like image stacking, a complex and time-consuming process crucial for astrophotographers.

With the recent funding round, OurSky’s vision extends beyond merely acquiring telescopes. CEO Dan Roelker highlighted the exorbitant maintenance costs associated with telescope ownership, emphasizing the company’s approach of tying into existing infrastructures to establish a collective network. This strategic move allows OurSky to avoid the challenges of managing extensive hardware, opting instead to leverage established systems.

While the company acknowledges the acquisition of telescopes is part of its plan, Roelker emphasized that the majority of the funding will be allocated to developing the software platform. This platform aims to cater to diverse needs, ranging from research and commercial applications to defense and consumer-centric uses for space observation.

Currently comprising a team of 15 individuals, OurSky has ambitious plans to expand its workforce to 20 within the next six months. This incremental growth aligns with the company’s overarching strategy of prudent capital allocation, ensuring alignment with market developments over the next one to two years.

Roelker emphasized the importance of capital efficiency in building and evolving the network, emphasizing a forward-thinking approach that aligns with the anticipated evolution of the market. The company’s objective is to use the investment wisely, considering longer time frames to adapt to the evolving market conditions.

As OurSky positions itself for sustained growth, its strategic focus on technology, network expansion, and capital efficiency is poised to shape the future landscape of global stargazing and space observation.

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Source(s): TechCrunch; Decrypt

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