Ira Scharf is Chief Executive Officer of PlanetiQ. Ira joined PlanetiQ in early 2023 and brings over 30 years of senior operating experience in enterprise weather solutions, artificial intelligence, cyber security and enterprise SaaS solutions. Most recently he was CEO and Founder of Spark Insights, an AI and geospatial analytics insurtech company founded in 2018 to deliver unparalleled global satellite and aerial-based insights to insurers and reinsurers for risk analysis, pricing and post-catastrophe damage assessment and response. Spark Insights was acquired by Concirrus Ltd in 2021.
Prior to that, Ira held numerous senior executive positions at major enterprise weather and cyber security firms, including Chief Operating Officer of Tomorrow.io, Chief Strategy Officer of BitSight Technologies and President, Commercial Services at AirDat (acquired by Panasonic).
Earlier in his career Ira spent eight years as Vice President and Division General Manager at The Weather Company (acquired by IBM) where he led the development of enterprise weather solutions for airlines, corporate and general aviation, energy utilities, wind and solar energy producers, agricultural entities, traders and hedge funds. He has been quoted in numerous business publications including BusinessWeek and The Economist.
Ira earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from MIT, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
President and Chairman
“Glad to be a part of space mission’s exploration and discovery, creating new capabilities and extending the knowledge base of humanity.”
Chris McCormick is the President and Chairman of PlanetiQ, and brings 34 years of Aerospace Mission Design, Engineering and Management experience to the table. His primary role is to guide PlanetiQ’s overall mission, as well as raise capital and manage the design and implementation of PlanetiQ’s highest quality atmospheric data collection technology. He is not afraid to move outside the boundaries of institutional knowledge, and has driven the goal to bring together forward-thinking brilliant people to advance technology by over an order of magnitude.
Prior to PlanetiQ, Chris founded Broad Reach Engineering and served as its top executive for 15 years. While at Broad Reach, he also led a team that developed the GPS Radio Occultation sensors for a number of missions, including COSMIC (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate) where he was also the Lead Systems Engineer. During his tenure, Broad Reach grew to 60 employees and over $28 million in annual revenue before being sold to Moog in 2012. After the sale to Moog, as Vice President of their Space Sector, he was responsible for managing over $250 million in revenue and expanding to include international facilities.
Before launching Broad Reach, Chris was the Program Manager for Spectrum Astro’s role in NASA’s Mars Surveyor Programs, and was the lead electronic test and integration engineer for the Miniature Seeker Technology Integration (MSTI) satellites. Prior to that position, he worked on GPS receivers, inflatable solar arrays, and other cutting-edge technologies as a contractor for the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA).
He earned his B.S. in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering from Virginia Tech, and earned a place in their Academy of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Excellence. In order to satisfy the ‘Ocean’ part of his degree, he restores and operates classic wooden boats in Colorado and the Chesapeake Bay.
“I grew up watching the Viking landing on Mars. I loved space, but I never wanted to be an astronaut.”
Dr. Robert Kursinski is the co-founder and Chief Scientist, PlanetiQ. As a quintessential “idea guy” his principal responsibilities include guiding and conceptualizing PlanetiQ’s next generation systems and technology. His overarching goal for PlanetiQ is to build a small, nimble environment where great minds have the freedom to build cutting edge tech, get it up into space, and start working with the data, in real world applications, to further intellectual understanding and combat climate change.
Before Rob started PlanetiQ, he worked as the Chief Scientist at Moog Broad Reach Engineering where he met and worked closely with co-founder Chris McCormick. Prior to that, he was an Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Associate Professor of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona, where he conceptualized, developed and built a successful prototype of the ATOMMS (Active Temperature, Ozone and Moisture Microwave Spectrometer) system.
Earlier in his career, Rob served as a Systems Engineer for GPS Radio Occultation Receiver development, then as a primary Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology. His most significant accomplishment there was his work on the Mars Atmosphere Climate Observatory mission – a weather prediction, communications, and navigation system that could someday make it possible to land people on Mars.
His experience and holistic approach to research have resulted in a long and impressive list of published scientific papers. He has also earned a host of awards and accolades that recognize his innovations in GPS Occultation Analysis systems, radio systems, atmospheric profiling, and GPS Earth Observatory Mission Ops and Data Analysis.
Rob earned his Masters in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California and his Ph.D. in Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology, where he was nominated for the Klauser prize for Best Thesis. Losing his home to the most destructive fire in Colorado history (driven by unusually dry weather and high winds) has only deepened his conviction to actively fight climate change. He hopes that he can leave the world a better place than he found it. In addition to his engineering and science degrees, he also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Theory, inspired by his father who was a professional musician.
VP of Finance
“The people that have both drive and purpose – those are the ones that succeed.”
Kelly Wells is Vice President of Finance, responsible for all of PlanetiQ’s financial activities including budgeting, forecasting, and cash management. With more than 22 years of strong business-building experience, she is the driving force behind organizational growth, robust process improvement, and is a key member of the leadership team.
When Kelly joined PlanetIQ in 2017, she brought not only her financial management skills and leadership experience, but also her ability to organize a team and problem solve by thinking outside of the box . She served as the Controller & Interim CFO at Parkifi, where she implemented revenue recognition for their complex business components. Prior to that, she served as Controller for E Source, designing forecast models and implementing process improvements that led to year-over-year significant increases in profitability.
Early on in her career Kelly was an auditor in public accounting at BKD, LLP (now FORVIS), where she managed a variety of audit clients which included the firm’s largest client in Colorado. Kelly also worked as the Director of Accounting and Financial Analysis for Mile High United Way, with notable accomplishments that included leading, authoring, and presenting the proposal that landed the largest grant in the organization’s history.
Kelly is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and earned both a Bachelors and Masters degree from the University of Colorado. She’s an active member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Colorado Society of CPAs, and the CFO Leadership Council.
The opportunity to contribute to PlanetiQ’s success as a leader in weather data and forecasting also reflects her personal passion to fight climate change. She champions sustainable, eco-friendly travel by hosting a website dedicated to the cause and inspires young entrepreneurs as a role model through volunteer work with Junior Achievement. All this while also striving to preserve the delicate balance between an active family life, with her husband and three children, and what she finds is a truly rewarding career.
VP of Operations
“If it’s aircraft or spacecraft, I’m happy.”
Daniel Smith is PlanetiQ’s Vice President of Operations and is responsible for facilitating mission operations, launch integration operations and supporting business operations. Holding both a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an MBA from the University of Denver, his primary responsibilities include helping to secure venture capital funding, collaborating on budgets and proposals, and nurturing good relationships both with government and private sector contractors and customers. On the engineering side, he manages missions operations, technical specifications and security requirements.
Prior to working at PlanetiQ, Dan was a Program Manager at Moog/Broad Reach Engineering, where he supported multiple GNSS receiver hardware and software programs for several low earth orbit satellite programs involving radio occultation data collection for improving weather forecasting and climate modeling. Throughout his career, he has worked on over 30 different aircraft types as a pilot, mechanic and engineer as well as 17 different satellite programs, including NASA projects such as the Mars Global Surveyor and Stardust.
Dan also enjoys supporting local industry and community organizations. He has served the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum as Auxiliary Board Member, Education Committee Chair, and volunteer. He has also served as a Board Member for the Colorado Space Business Roundtable.
Senior VP of Engineering
“What do I love about working at PlanetiQ? The people! This team is amazing.”
As the Senior Vice President of Engineering, Charlie Schira is responsible for overseeing and guiding spacecraft development at PlanetiQ. His three decades of experience in Attitude Determination and Control Systems (ADCS) and Spacecraft Systems make him uniquely suited to develop specifications for intelligently outsourcing spacecraft components and manage relationships with supply partners on a streamlined budget and tight timeframe. He is also the quintessential team player, fostering a culture where each person helps the others succeed and celebrates the success of the project and the team as a whole.
Charlie’s most recent positions were both as a Systems Engineer, first at Google then at PlanetiQ. Google gave him the opportunity to form and lead a subsystem team where he spearheaded the development of cost-effective, innovative system architecture solutions while managing supplier relationships. He then expanded his management experience working on a project involving a constellation of small satellites for PlanetiQ.
Some of Charlie’s most influential work was done at Ball Aerospace and Technologies, where he held a number of different ADCS Lead positions. These included major management and design/development roles on the ADCS subsystems built for the Kepler space telescope and Deep Impact projects, directly contributing to significant advances in scientific knowledge and national security. His tenure at Ball also honed a talent for career development planning and mentoring up-and-coming engineers.
Charlie earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois and Stanford University, respectively. In addition to co-authoring several papers on his Kepler and Deep Impact experiences, his passion for sharing knowledge has spilled over into volunteer work tutoring disadvantaged high school kids. He is an avid cyclist and loves hiking in the Colorado mountains.
VP of Hardware Engineering
“I am most proud of the electronics I have in orbit – I got into this industry to launch stuff and see it work!”
Paul McGaugh holds the title of Vice President of Hardware Engineering. He leads the technical team and manages the projects for PlanetiQ’s satellite electronics design and development. He combines extensive experience in bringing together diverse groups of people and tools with knowledge of end-to-end spacecraft component architecture, manufacturing and testing. His expertise positions PlanetIQ as a leader in cutting-edge, innovative, highly reliable electronic hardware.
Throughout Paul’s career he has garnered hands-on experience through the unique challenges of designing electronics for space. He has decades of knowledge of the inner workings of the satellite engineering industry and experience adapting to current and new trends and technology. He served most recently as the Associate Principal Engineer, Space Access and Integrated Systems, at Moog Space and Defense Group, where he built on his talent as a project manager. He played key roles in the development of the widely-used BRE440 system-on-a-chip and the SB-SAT communication terminal for LEO spacecraft.
Growing up in the golden age of space exploration ignited his passion for space and engineering. As a Senior Research Engineer at Southwest Research Institute, Paul designed and tested a solid state recorder for the IMAGE MIDEX mission, which studied the global response of the Earth’s magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind. He also designed a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) circuit for the PEPE instrument that collected data on NASA’s Deep Space 1 mission, and a number of processor based command and data handling boards for various satellites. Prior to this position, he worked for Honeywell Process Solutions building control systems electronics that protected both assets and human life – an experience that left him with an indelible understanding of the importance of reliability.
Paul graduated from Lamar University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. While he embraces the excitement of seeing a blank sheet of paper become a highly sophisticated and operational satellite, he also takes time to recharge his own batteries during camping explorations of Colorado’s backcountry. He has served as a local Cub Scout Den leader and continues to explore his fascination with weather and climate studies both at work and in his free time.
VP of Software Engineering
“I love that there is a great big mountain of problems to solve – I’m a problem solver at heart.”
Jonathan Brandmeyer serves as PlanetiQ’s Vice President of Software Engineering. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience across multiple industries and programming languages, and is driven by his commitment to move solutions forward with exacting accuracy. His specialty as a Control Systems Engineer lies in system dynamic analysis and state estimation algorithms. Applied to radio occultation, he has designed, developed, and tested PlanetiQ’s GNSS signal acquisition system, tracking control loops, and precise orbit determination system together with a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers. Leveraging his experience with computing at scale, he has also supervised the construction and operation of the world’s lowest-latency space weather data preprocessing system.
Before moving to PlanetiQ, Jonathan served at Alphabet as an embedded software and controls engineer in the Titan Aerospace team. His capacity for intense product focus brought fully functioning results to the table under impossibly tight timeframes, including highly accurate calibration systems and geolocation software at scale in Google Geo. Prior to Alphabet, he worked as an embedded engineer for a variety of clients and projects, and headed Boulder Wind Power’s power electronics team as Principal Software and Controls Engineer, working on the next generation of silicon carbide wind turbine and grid-interactive power converters.
Jonathan started his career as a Nuclear Propulsion Plant Supervisor with the U.S. Navy, and his strong sense of professional integrity propelled him quickly through the ranks. Directly after earning his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at North Carolina State University, he developed control code and calibration systems for Parata System’s prescription-filling robot, reducing counting errors by a factor of ten. At Eaton Corporation, he was promoted to Lead Embedded Software Engineer and was responsible for UPS firmware, sensing, and controls systems while coordinating with international engineering and testing teams.
A committed family man, Jonathan empowers his team to find true work-life balance. He has deliberately built and implemented redundancy, automation and auto recovery systems enabling his team to actually take time off – all the way off. He sees climate change as the greatest threat we as a planet have ever faced, and embraces the opportunity to be an active part of the solution. He is also deeply committed to transparency, and is passionate about ensuring that PlanetiQ continues to be an ethical and honest enterprise.
Board of Directors
Chris McCormick, Chairman
George Ugras, PhD
Managing Director, AV8 Ventures
Partner, New Science Ventures
Principal, Valo Ventures