Melanie Stricklan is co-founder and CEO of US company, Slingshot Aerospace, a company building decision intelligence technologies to ensure space remains a safe and secure gateway of discovery – a core tenet of our global economy for generations to come.
From a minnow startup in 2017, just four years later, Slingshot is bringing its expertise to assist organisations like the US military, Boeing and NASA. It’s an emerging space technology company, revolutionising data exploitation, for defence and commercial applications. FINN talked to Stricklan about diversity, data – and the excitement of a new frontier.
Stricklan is a co-founder of the company which she formed after retiring from the Air Force after 21 years of service. She’s also been recognised as one of America’s top 100 female founders.
“Love affair” with space started very young
Her fascination with space started young. “My love affair with space started when I was a little girl,” she said. “I grew up in West Texas and the night skies there were just pristine. So looking at the night sky, often seeing the Milky Way there was such an inspiration to me. And once I learned about the US Space Programme, I marched my little girl self down to the library and found all of the different NASA agencies addresses and wrote every one of them.”
Stricklan’s letters gained many replies from each of the different NASA agencies. “I took those pictures and diagrams and stapled them to a wall where they remained for years to come. And that’s where it all started. I was hooked. And I later joined the Air Force to take that dream to a different level and spent 21 years doing that.”
Stricklan said that being a woman in STEM and the Air Force was now easier now than it was 21 years ago. At Slingshot, she heads up a diverse team of experts which include women, from the executive team all the way to engineers
Driving insights from data
Data has been the driver for Stricklan’s career – generated from years spent looking down at the ground and from different sensors on aircraft and drones.
“So for example, whenever I was working on J-stars, we had, you know, hundreds of 1000s of miles of data that we were looking through at any given moment on the aircraft. An enormous amount of data follow me over to the space side as well. So we put in an enormous amount of time and energy into the widgets that we put in orbit. And oftentimes data and information extraction from that data is an afterthought. And so here at Slingshot, we started this company, and I left the Air Force in order to drive this, but we started the company to really get after automating and extracting insights from all of that data in a new, profound timeline.”
Stricklan has raised around $17 million to get Slingshot into orbit and is now helping clients to make decisions through digital artificial intelligence. “All of that data, whether it’s telemetry data, or paler data, or even ground data SATCOM data, it’s a lot. And so we need to take the space environment or the space industry, into a digital transformation.”
“A lot of other industries have already made their way through this digital transformation. But we believe it’s really important to empower our clients across the enterprise with more autonomy with their decision frameworks. And that’s what trusted AI allows us to do.”
Role of satellites becoming ever-more important
Stricklan said the role of satellites in daily life was becoming ever more important – for communications and many other purposes: “Satellites bring capabilities that many of us take for granted, whether it’s the blue on our phone, getting from one point to another safely and fast, or whether it’s going to the bank or to the gas station to make a transit transaction that those GPS satellites don’t just provide navigation. They also provide precise timing for our global financial systems.”
“Beyond that, we leverage satellites for humanitarian efforts to monitor floods to to help with communications. So, in this disconnected world, post-COVID, we’re really leveraging satellites, more than ever, for communications. And so it’s very important that those satellites continue to operate in a collision free environment, and have the spectrum that they need to do their mission.”
“Shaping a new frontier within the final frontier”
Throughout the From the Top series, we’ve asked CEOs of companies from around the globe about the issues that keep them awake at night. For Stricklan, its excitement about the possibilities of the space industry. “I think there’s less worried point points and just more excitement for me. We’re just on the cusp of a new frontier – you know, the final frontier is at once was called.”
“But we’re shaping an entirely new frontier within the final frontier, on how to how to harness all of this data, how to how to educate better, and really cultivate our workforce. That that in in 10, or 15 years is going to be taking us beyond Mars, I believe. So those types of things just get me very, very excited. And in the fact that we’re actually helping our clients, whether it’s military or private sector, make mission critical decisions better. So I’m just excited, I don’t have a whole lot of worry, I know that we’re going to make space more sustainable in the near term.”