NOAA, NASA, privatized data and the booming commercial space industry.

Brian Mohr
13 min readNov 3, 2017


Pete Worden was the director of the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley from 2006–2015.

Ames is a NASA incubator that focuses on info, bio and nano technologies.

Its research is foundational to human exploration of planet and space.

Worden (Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret., PhD) is a recognized expert on civil and military space issues.

Will Marshall and Robbie Schingler were two of Worden’s first hires.

While working at Ames, (l) Chris Boshuizen, Marshall and Schingler developed a CubeSat. A CubeSat is a miniature satellite — a nanosatellite.

In 2010, the 3 physicists left Ames and founded Cosmogia (later renamed Planet Labs).

In 2014, Marshall explains Planet Labs at TED.

Breaking into the satellite imaging industry can get expensive.

Consider the cost of sending a satellite to space.

Planet Labs has raised $183.1 million so far.

In 2013, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner led the $52 million Series B funding for Planet. He was also involved w/ Planet’s Series C round which raised $70 million.

Milner runs Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian investment firm that’s invested billions of dollars in U.S. startups like Zynga, Groupon, Twitter, Airbnb, Slack, Flexport, Wish and Boxed.

Russian Oligarch Alisher Usmanov owns 1/3 of DST and is its largest investor. His estimated net worth fluctuates between $15 – $20 billion.

In 2015, DST raised $1.7 billion from 56 different investors. The fund, Global V, is registered in the Cayman Islands. As are funds II-IV.

In 2015, Milner launched Breakthrough Initiatives. The program was founded to search for extraterrestrial intelligence over a span of at least 10 years.

Breakthrough projects include:

Worden is the director of the Starshot project.

Milner, Stephen Hawing and Mark Zuckerberg are on the advisory board.

Thiel also has prior dealings in the commercial space and climate industries. Aside from Planet Labs, Founders Fund was the lead investor in a $50 million Series C round for Climate Corp.

Climate Corp. uses satellite imagery to help farmers manage their crops.

It was bought by Monsanto in 2013.

In 2015, FF became the first institutional investor in the legal cannabis industry.

The group invested “multi-millions” of dollars in Privateer Holdings, a marijuana company that owns the Canadian medical marijuana producer Tilray and the pot information service Leafly.

Tilray produces and sales medical cannabis around the world.

In 2016, FF raised $1.3 billion for it’s sixth round of funding. Since FF I opened in 2005, Thiel and partners have raised nearly $3.5 billion.

Thiel is Trump’s closest tech advisor. He’s been in talks to become the chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. The PIAB is in place to independently monitor America’s spy agencies.

Thiel’s data analysis company Palentir has been working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency for the last few years. It’s been helping immigration enforcement track individuals.

Palantir‘s database is comprised of a wide-ranging array of datasets which are used in its top-secret algorithms to “track and assesses immigrants and other travelers.”

Palentir is also widely used w/in the CIA.

Several of Thiel’s associates are in top positions in the Trump admin. Michael Kratsios is the U.S. Deputy Chief Tech Officer.

Kevin Harrington is on the senior staff at the National Security Council.

Thiel is also playing a pivotal role in the negotiations going on at the National Space Council.

Friction exists regarding the “direction” of the space council.

The tenured gov contractors have offices in Huntsville, AL where the Marshall Space Flight Center is located. It’s NASA’s largest center.

The United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The ULA and other A&D contractors brings in hundreds of millions of dollars into Session’s home state. They’re also a direct competitor to SpaceX.

The ULA uses the Russian RD-180 engine for its US Atlas V launch vehicle because it’s cheap and reliable. It’s been carrying U.S. satellites into space for decades.

Thiel’s FF has invested around $200M in SpaceX. As part of its initial $20M investment, FF partner Luke Nosek was added to the SpaceX board.

Musk, Thiel and Nosek are all OG PayPal Mafia.

In July 2017, Nosek announced he would be creating Gigafund, a new investment firm that initially raised $100M in SpaceX.

Most of SpaceX work has been cargo supply missions to the Space Station. It’s expected to launch astronauts in 2018. It launches satellites into space w/ its Flacon 9.

It’s also working on the Falcon Heavy, a rocket that will carry up to 37,000 pounds of cargo and crew to Mars. It’s expected to launch in 2018.

In 2016, Planet Labs signed a $20 million contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence agency.

The NSG is the operating framework supported by producers, consumers or influencers of geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT.

Planet now has 144 satellites in space — the most of any company in the world. It will soon be able to image the entire earth on a daily basis.

As the commercial space and meteorology industries flourish, politicians favoring more privatized data are gaining full backing from Trump/GOP.

Jim Bridenstine (R-Ok) is Trump’s pick to head NASA.

Bridenstine pushes “measures that would allow commercial companies to collect and sell weather forecasting data that would integrate with U. S. weather forecasting models.”

He’s introduced the “American Space Renaissance Act.” A bill that is meant to “provide certainty to encourage commercial space innovation.”

Bridenstine’s Sen confirmation hearing was Wednesday. (11/01/17)

Barry Myers is Trump’s nominee for the the dual post of NOAA Admin & Under Sec for Oceans and Atmosphere, Dept. of Commerce.

Myers is the CEO of AccuWeather, a private weather forecaster. His brother founded it in 2007.

He has a “direct responsibility for the company’s rapidly growing New Media initiatives in the wired and mobile web, (and) the 24x7 Local AccuWeather Channel.”

He does not have any formal education in science or meteorology but has worked in the industry for decades.

He’s the first person from private industry to be nominated to head NOAA.

In 2012, Myer’s supported Rick Santorum’s bill that would have “prohibited federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel.”

AccuWeather lobbied for the passage of the “Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017.”

It became law on April 18, 2017. It’s the first major weather legislation enacted since the early 1990s.

The law was passed to do the following:

Bridenstine, Trump’s nominee to head NASA , was a co-sponsor of the bill. So was Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Rohrabacher represents Orange County. The area is home to various space contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

He’s the Vice Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee. He’s been the Chairmen of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee since he first entered Congress in 1989.

He’s had a long, close relationship w/ Russia.

The new wave of weather and space data will provide whole new insights into how the world operates. Experts can track deforestation, monitor natural disasters, track human and animal migration. Farmers will have better data to grow more efficient crops. Transport comps. will have improved supply chain logistics.

It will be valuable data that provides strategic advantages. It will need to be secure and available.

In Aug. 2017, it was reported that “unauthorized (user) location data was being sent from the Accuweather iOS mobile app. Even when the user had opted out of providing that data .”

The data was being sent from the AccuWeather app to a company called Reveal Mobile. Reveal sells the info. to retailers with the promise of helping to “understand the path of a consumer and where they go throughout the day.”

In 2011, Accuweather was involved in a class action lawsuit over location tracking on an HTC EVO device.

The NOAA and NASA budgets continue to be slashed. Trump and the GOP are proposing to cut the NOAA budget by 16%.

Trump and the GOP are proposing to cut FEMA’s budget for state and local grants by $667 million. Trump also wants to eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program. The program costs the government $190 million and is $25 billion in debt.

Trump’s budget proposal calls for $19.1 billion in funding for NASA.

In 2015, the DOD released the “National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and Climate Change” report.

The report identified four main areas of climate-related security risks:

  1. Recurring flooding, drought, and higher temperatures;
  2. More frequent and/or more severe extreme weather events;
  3. Sea level rise and temperature changes; and
  4. Decreases in Arctic ice cover, type, and thickness.

The collection, dissemination and security of the growing data necessary to monitor these climate security risks are increasingly being taken over by private industry.

The laws are being blurred between what data is publicly accessible and what data is private.

Contact @NOAA (1–202–482–6090) and @NASA (1–202–358–0001).