Satellites, sensors, social media and purchasing data provide terabytes’ worth of information about how the global economy is working — and the insights gleaned from that data can be more precious than gold.
But what’s the best way to extract the gold from the dross? That’s where longtime space entrepreneur Dick Rocket intends to step in with a stealthy venture called Orrery.ai.
“There’s a gap between the data analysis firms and the financial sector,” Rocket told GeekWire this week. “That is our gap.”
Rocket launched Orrery.ai about a year ago, with backing from angel investors, but he and a small executive team are just now ramping up a more ambitious private funding campaign. They’re also mulling over where to put their headquarters. (The Seattle area is in the mix, along with sites in Florida, Texas, New York and Georgia.)
One of the key tasks ahead will be to fine-tune a set of machine-learning algorithms that can process publicly available data as well as proprietary data sets and satellite imagery to produce business insights.
“There are literally millions of data sources that are available to us,” said Jason Evans, a tech startup veteran who serves as Orrery.ai’s chief technical officer.
Space companies such as Spire Global and Seattle-based BlackSky already offer satellite data that can be used to figure out whose ship traffic is increasing, whose crops are doing well, or which retail chain’s parking lots are full. But they leave it up to their customers — including financial analysts and hedge fund managers — to decide what to do with that information.
In contrast, Orrery.ai would reserve the insights for its own use, although there may be some data-sharing deals on the side. “We don’t want anyone knowing what we know,” Rocket said.
Everything that Orrery.ai comes to know would be applied to strategic investments made through a separate but allied venture called the 2020 Fund. Rocket is already thinking big about how the 2020 Fund would leverage Orrery.ai’s proprietary data analysis to make money for its investors.
“We are here to destroy all the bad companies that are publicly traded, and make sure that great companies shine,” he said.
Rocket, who co-founded NewSpace Global in 2011 to offer business intelligence about emerging space companies, doesn’t pull any punches. During this week’s telephone interview, he freely dropped F-bombs when discussing the objects of his scorn (such as SpaceX and Elon Musk).
He’s held forth about the commercial space industry on media outlets such as CNBC, Fox News, Forbes, Fortune and “The Space Show.” He’s shepherded investments in space ventures through the Orrery Group. Rocket, who was born Richard M. David, even adopted a spacey last name in honor of his interest in the final frontier.
So what’s the space angle to Orrery.ai? “I thought you’d never ask,” Rocket said.
The plan calls for Orrery.ai to start off buying data from the likes of Spire Global or Planet, but eventually have its own satellites put into orbit. The strategy would take advantage of the fast-falling costs and fast-rising capabilities associated with small satellites.
Rocket envisions deploying a fleet of credit-card-sized “chipsats,” equipped with radar instruments to collect and beam down data day and night, whether it’s cloudy or clear.
“Our secret sauce is synthetic aperture radar,” he said.
A lot of the details behind Orrery.ai are still up in the air, ranging from who would make the satellites, to who would launch them, to how they’d be paid for. Rocket said that he’s been in contact with a host of well-known space organizations about filling in those details, and that the first deals could be nailed down within the next few weeks.
Will all the anticipated deals come to fruition? Time will tell, but Rocket realizes he doesn’t have an unlimited amount of time. He’s been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer that could turn into a life-threatening condition.
“I want to cure cancer in space. … That’s why I’m so intense about selling this, because I’m not on other people’s schedule,” he said. “I don’t expect to live to 100, unless I go in space, in which case I want to die of natural causes in orbit.”