Austin and El Segundo-based Slingshot Aerospace was born out of a realization that while there is a massive amount of information collected by observation technology aboard satellites, airplanes, drones and beyond, the analytics and turnaround of said info into something actionable often took a long time -- sometimes crucial insights that would've been valuable in the moment for Air Force pilots, for instance, would be processed and returned long after they were actually in the air and on a mission. Slingshot was founded three years ago to help turn Earth and space-based observation data into something useful when it's needed, and now the startup has raised an $8 million Series A to grow its team and expand its focus to new industries beyond the aerospace and defense customers it currently serves.
I spoke to Slingshot Aerospace co-founders David Godwin and Melanie Stricklan about their new funding, which brings the company's total raised overall to $17.1 million. The startup is also already generating plenty of revenue, with early contracts from customers including NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and, most recently, the U.S. Space Force for its forthcoming Slingshot Orbital Laboratory simulated training environment.
Godwin, Slingshot's CEO, explained that initially, the startup has been focused primarily on aerospace and defense customers, which explains the all-star early customer list of companies and public agencies in that field. That has come in part from the experience of Stricklan, the company's chief strategy officer, and their third co-founder, Thomas Ashman, both whom spent many years in the Air Force prior to founding the company.
"In the past two to three years, we haven't really had a lack of aerospace and government business," Godwin explained. "It's definitely taken a lot of our attention. But over this past year, we've started exploring other verticals, what we want to do in those verticals, and identifying opportunities. And honestly, we've seen a lot of opportunity there. One of the tricks is just picking which direction we're going to lean the hardest into and focus on -- so we're working on that plan right now."
There should be no shortage of demand for what Slingshot is trying to accomplish. As mentioned above, the startup is unlocking actionable insight from data that until now has been essentially unusable without time-consuming round-trips to data centers and plenty of off-site processing. Advancements in technology have meant that you could potentially do more with this data in a timely fashion, but systems haven't necessarily caught up to the technical leading edge.
"I spent 21 years in the Air Force and I flew on a surveillance aircraft that had a synthetic aperture radar on it," Stricklan explained. "What that meant is it could see through rain, could see through clouds and it could see at night, unlike a lot of Earth observation optical data, and it could see very far and wide and so that data set was extremely rich, and it had so much potential at the same time. That aircraft that I flew on, called JSTARS, was a battle management platform. So it was also bringing in different feeds of information from different platforms, whether they be satellites, or intelligence feeds from the ground or other aircraft like AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System], etc. One thing that really was challenging was getting real time information down to the warfighter, or even making real-time decisions on board the aircraft from a battle management perspective."
Essentially, Stricklan said that the only real-time insight they could gather during her time on JSTARS was moving target indicators, to show literally that there were targets in motion on the ground. Other, much more valuable information, would be revealed by the analysis of the combined info, but that could take hours, days, weeks or even months to arrive. Slingshot leverages Godwin's more than two decades of experience with data analytics to provide what he calls "the right data, at the right time, all in one place" in order to enable "faster, better-informed decision-making."
That's obviously of value and interest to entities like the U.S. Space Force, which is trying to map out how to secure an entirely new warfighting domain, but it's also valuable to private companies and commercial operators. One area of potentially significant growth for Slingshot is in on-orbit commercial satellite operations, where the increased pace of launch from private companies operating satellite constellations means situational awareness is more important than ever.
Slingshot Aerospace is growing the team, having already expanded to nearly 30 people, with plans to hire more engineers in particular as part of the use of these funds. The Series A was led by ATX Venture Partners, as well as Steve Case's Rise of the Rest Seed fund, Techstars and Okapi Venture Capital. Angels including the co-founders of Apple-acquired Semetric also participated.