Startups

This NoVa startup created a ‘dashcam’ for spacecraft

The Alexandria company created an on-board device and accompanying software to help derisk satellite and spacecraft movements.

SCOUT is developing a "dash cam" for satellites and spacecraft.

(Courtesy image)

As more satellites, telescopes and other spacecraft get launched every year, outer space can frequently experience its own traffic problem.

But there’s a local company on the case. SCOUT, a space tech company based in Alexandria, Virginia, developed a “dashcam” for satellites and spacecraft that allows them to navigate based on their surroundings. The company, founded in 2019, previously built a device to assist in navigation, as well as several software elements to be used from the ground.

As of today, the company closed an undisclosed bridge round that was led by Decisive Point, with participation from Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation and Geospatial Alpha.

The idea, cofounder and CEO Eric Ingram told Technical.ly, is to make spacecraft more aware of their surroundings. That awareness can help make flights and flight paths safer.

“A lot of good things are happening up there, but we have a very limited awareness of everything that’s going on,” Ingram said. “So every spacecraft is going max speed on a highway with their eyes closed. And as you keep adding more and more cars to that highway, it just becomes riskier.”

Currently, Ingram said, scientists primarily track spacecraft using radars and optical telescopes, which both keep tabs on spacecraft overhead. You confirm which satellite is yours, he added, by watching all the ones that go by.

SCOUT instead uses a more up-close approach. Its SCOUT-Vision video system, which has two cameras and a computer that connects to the spacecraft’s system, is bolted in place and accompanies the spacecraft on its journey. The startup’s software, which is primarily built in Python, helps the spacecraft navigate in relation to other objects. It can thus assist in avoiding collisions and related tasks like docking.

“[SCOUT’s system] allows them to be cognizant of their surroundings, to see something, identify it, understand where it’s going and what direction it’s facing, and make decisions on what you want to do relative to it,” Ingram said. 

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SCOUT CEO Eric Ingram (center) and team. (Courtesy photo)

Alongside this, the company plans to create OVER-Sats, which are stand-alone spaceborne observation systems, launching in 2023. It also hopes to create orbit-wide observation systems that can act like traffic cameras at intersections.

Ingram noted that SCOUT has been operating in space since June of 2021. It works with companies like the nd works with companies like in-space infrastructure developer Momentus.

The new funding, Ingram said, will help the company prepare for its seed round later this month. He also hopes to double the six-person startup’s size by the end of the year. Since its start, the company has raised $1.5 million, and it intends to open an approximately $5 million seed round later this month.

Overall, he hopes that SCOUT’s technology can help derisk, and thus grow, the space ecosystem. He wants a situation where “all the stuff I grew up seeing in sci-fi movies and shows can actually happen,” he said.

“If you’re able to derisk the environment, then you’re able to allow more projects in and financiers who might be more risk-averse to participate,” Ingram said. “The more users of the space ecosystem we have, the more that drives the need to make it a safer ecosystem, and a safer place to operate.”

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