OurSky has a global telescope network that includes an observatory in Bluemont, Virginia. The building's roof opens to allow telescopes to view the night sky. Credit: OurSky

SAN FRANCISCO – Hundreds of customers have signed up for an online platform unveiled in early December by OurSky, a startup that recently raised $9.5 million to simplify tracking of objects in space.

OurSky was founded in 2022 by Daniel Roelker, former SpaceX vice president of software engineering, and Alex Hawkinson, founder of home automation startup SmartThings and a prominent astrophotographer. Los Angeles-based OurSky gathers data with a global telescope network.

“We’re making the ability to track things in space just another layer of the infrastructure,” Roelker told SpaceNews. “Any space company can very quickly get the data they need to understand their specific application in space.”

By easing access to this type of data, OurSky intends decrease the cost of developing space-related products and services.

“Most of the customers need the data, but they’re not space observation companies,” Roelker said. “The fact that they can use modern APIs to tell an established global network what information they need saves them time, money and investment.”

OurSky announced Dec. 6 the closing of its $9.5 million seed funding round led by Upfront Ventures and Venrex Investment Management. Oceans Ventures, Marlinspike Partners and Embedded Ventures participated in the round.

Global Network

OurSky’s core network includes 30 telescopes at 10 global sites. In addition, OurSky pulls in data from 10 “extremely capable telescopes” owned by amateur astronomers, Hawkinson said. Another 15 to 25 telescopes tie into OurSky through Nighttime Imaging “N” Astronomy, or NINA, an astrophotography imaging suite.

“We’re excited about being able to leverage existing telescopes and infrastructure deployed around the world,” Roelker said. “There’s a very passionate amateur astronomy community with hundreds of thousands of scopes. We’re big believers in that type of global open-source movement for astronomy.”

Hawkinson added that many telescopes around the world are “underutilized” due to terrible astronomy software.

Customer Base

OurSky was established to serve satellite operators, government agencies and insurance companies as well as scientific and research organizations.

“We work with institutes and universities around the world that want to collect different types of information from highly capable telescope networks,” Hawkinson said. “Sometimes universities have their own telescopes. But a lot of times they need a telescope at a certain location to do something for a few months. Being able to have access to a scope and data in an easy programmatic way helps to spur a lot of core research.”

Infrastructure Layer

In recent years, companies have unveiled a variety of products and services to streamline operations for government and commercial space operations. Roelker compares the trend to cloud, payment and other APIs that serve as infrastructure layers for terrestrial businesses.

“We’re eliminating a lot of that friction that it takes to go from your idea to a practical space application,” Hawkinson said.

Applications for OurSky data include commercial and government space domain awareness, including space debris tracking.

“Those are obvious applications,” Roelker said. “And as Alex and I have both seen over our careers, when you open up access to data and a platform, you see novel applications developed that no one ever thought about.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...