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Weather Balloon Data Company Raises $6M in Seed Funds

Weather balloon in flight

Weather balloon in flight (Windborne Systems Inc.)

23 June 2023. A company creating a network of long-range high-altitude balloons to expand the scope of global weather forecasting is raising $6 million in seed funds. Windborne Systems Inc. in Palo Alto, California is a four year-old enterprise begun by a group of former Stanford University engineering students working on a campus data balloon project.

Windborne Systems aims to fill a gap in weather data that it says causes hardships for communities and industries worldwide depending on accurate and reliable weather forecasts, a need becoming more acute as the scale and pace of climate emergencies increase. The company cites data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA that weather-related disaster recovery costs increased nearly six-fold to $175 billion between 1990 and 2022.

One reason for this burgeoning cost, says WindBorne, is the absence of weather monitoring stations in many part of the world, underscored by a finding from the World Meteorological Organization that 85 percent of the earth lacks adequate observations of weather data. As a result, says the company, even the U.S. west coast often lacks adequate forecasting data for winter storms that form over the Pacific.

Each balloon flies for seven days

Three former undergraduate engineering students taking part in the Stanford University Student Space Initiative founded  Windborne Systems to fill this gap. One of the project’s activities is construction of high-altitude balloons launched with scientific payloads. John Dean, one of the student-founders and now CEO says in a Windborne Systems statement released through BusinessWire, “Businesses and governments rely on accurate weather forecasts to make critical decisions, yet all too often the weather forecast is wrong,” adding “the stakes are even higher on a state, national, or continental level.”

The company says it so far launched some 600 balloons, with each balloon flying for an average of seven days, carrying small compact instrument payloads weighing less than six pounds that gather data at various altitudes up to 16 kilometers. While not disclosing detailed costs, Windborne Systems says its balloons capture 10 to 100 times more data per dollar than alternative systems. The company says it licenses its data to private and public-sector customers, including the military, for better predictions of extreme weather events, but also for energy forecasts, and public safety plans.

In a collaboration with NOAA in February and March 2022, the agency noted Windborne Systems balloons can capture data from high-impact forecasting regions such as the tropopause, the boundary layer between the stratosphere and troposphere, where aviation crews look for indications of jet stream changes and impending turbulence, and where deep tropical weather systems with sharp up- and down-drafts can break through over land masses. In that collaboration, Windborne launched 65 balloons from South Korea and Maui, Hawai’i that collected data on atmospheric rivers — long, narrow stretches in the atmosphere that carry water vapor out of the tropics to other regions — for 282 days of in-flight time reporting on 675,000 kilometers of ground area.

Windborne Systems is raising $6 million in seed funds, led by technology investor Footwork VC in San Francisco. Footwork invests mainly in seed and first full venture rounds called series A. Joining the seed round are Khosla Ventures, Pear VC, Ubiquity Ventures, Harvest Ventures, and Humba Ventures. Windborne plans to use the proceeds to expand its flights to eventually hundreds of concurrent balloons in the air by the end of 2024, as well as grow its staff.

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