Interview: Melanie Stricklan of Slingshot Aerospace Aims to Clean Up Space with Location Tech Products


Slingshot Aerospace of El Segundo, a maker of situational intelligence software, is navigating the startup universe and aiming to make the world a better place.

The SoCal creates mapping software that enables users to collect and analyze data for decision-making in real time situations. The company serves  large U.S. defense and aerospace customers like the U.S. Air Force and NASA.

With co-founders, David Godwin, the chief executive officer, and Thomas Ashman, the chief process officer, Slingshot Aerospace Chief Strategy Officer Melanie Stricklan saw a need and started a company that helps solve a range of challenges. The company’s lead products are Slingshot Earth, Slingshot Orbital and Slingshot Edge, all designed to help users see the lay of the land — or space — to make intelligent procedural decisions.

In a question-and-answer session with SoCal Aerospace News Network, Stricklan, a retired US Air Force officer and combat-tested executive leader, gives insights into her company.  And, she added, Slingshot Aerospace is always looking to hire talented employees.

Interview with Melanie Melanie Stricklan Founder of Slingshot Aerospace – Courtesy

Q: How did you get into involved in this area of technology? 

A: As a child I was just infatuated with space and airplanes. Fortunately I found a career that I was able to do, the nexus of my two loves both aircraft and and space. So I joined the United States Air Force in 1996 and I actually was on a surveillance aircraft for for a long time, For about eight years.

After going to school nights and weekends to gain my commission in the Air Force, I became an officer in the space realm of the Air Force. At that time, it was U.S. Space Command, now U.S. Space Force, where I really recognized the need: We put a lot of time and effort into the sensors that we put in the air or in space and we don’t put a lot of time and effort into the data analysis and the high-powered computers necessary in order to extract information, to really get information in real time.


Q: When did you know you were ready to launch a company?

A: After 21 years in the Air Force, I felt that I had the the leadership prowess that they had equipped me with and the technical fortitude to really start a company to get after that problem of data analysis. And that’s what we’re doing here. And over the last three years, we’ve had a lot of success. We brought that type of capability back to the warfighter. Both looking down either from a geospatial temporal spatial capability and looking back up at space for situational awareness.

And over the next three years, we expect to do more of that and democratize those capabilities, so that more businesses and and organizations across the the globe will have access to make this type of information to make base more sustainable and to mitigate threats on the ground.

Q: You’re using your Slingshot Earth for a good cause right now: Helping people locate food sources during the COVID emergency. How did that come about?

A: We were really exploring ways that we can leverage our technology to help during the COVID crisis and we realized that we can create a custom version of our earth solution, to really help the community visualize food resources throughout the county.

It may seem just a little bit out of our wheelhouse, but really, our mission is to provide clarity in complex situations, enhance peoples’ situational awareness. And I think the underserved population of Los Angeles was suffering with inability to find food resources quickly, and that number increased quite dramatically as did the phone calls into 211 LA County. And so with that exponential growth in need, we found ourselves able to transition in just under a few weeks, we were able to build a robust mapping platform that allowed anyone to to log in very easily see up to date food resources.

In January and February LA County was getting 2000 hits a day (from people looking for food) but now it’s 10 times that, and we’re excited to do our part.  Read the story here.

Q:  Is there one entity or are there a few entities today that you would consider to be a particular threat to the work that you do, and the work that the U.S. Space Force may be undertaking?

A: The Space Force, just like other branches of the service are faced with threats on a daily basis, but it’s not a new threat for the United States Space Force. They’ve been under threat for quite some time from nation states like China and Russia, and the mission of the United States Space Force is to protect and defend our way of life here. And that means protecting and defending those assets that provide that way of life, like our GPS systems that everyone has become reliant on. And the majority of folks don’t even know they’re reliant on it. The United States Space Force is ultimately there to protect and defend our way of life here by protecting and defending those satellites.

But by all means, there have been nefarious actions going on in orbit for quite some time. And those tests that some of the various entities have done over the the past few years, for example, in 2007 the Chinese shot (Fengyun-1C) their weather satellite out of the sky, and it caused the debris cloud that didn’t burn back in. And so thousands and thousands and thousands of pieces of debris that are on orbit going 17,000 miles an hour present a big threat perhaps even bigger of a threat than some of the nefarious activity going on today.

And so I think that that orbital debris is the biggest threat. And we’ve really got to do a better job of persistently understanding those objects as they pertain to our orbit, especially now that over the next three years, there are 58,000 satellites manifested to go up on orbit. Right now, we’ve got about 1800 to 2000 operational satellites on orbit so can you imagine that exponential growth? And it all that’s good intent behind it, access to space is now cheaper because of Elon Musk, transparency and pricing and all of those things.

We can get the Internet to the world and that’s a great story. But more objects on orbit mean more risk to those assets and surrounding assets, more debris and less opportunity to to view the stars, because of the glint off of these things. And so it’s just really important for us and part of the Slingshot mission is sustainability, so that we can continue to have our way of life and communicate across boundaries.

Q: To the best of your knowledge is anybody creating a debris vacuum or some kind of a collection device that actually might pick up this stuff in space?

A:  Globally speaking, I know there are several. One of the most interesting to me was a Japanese company that makes a fishing net. They put a proposal together to use that same type of technology, a different composite material, certainly, but to launch a net that would close in around some of this and then tether would deploy and bring it back through the atmosphere where it would disintegrate. So now, there are many different regulations going in place prior to launch like ‘What is your debris mitigation plan?’ And some of that goes into ‘What is your space situational awareness’ or ‘space domain awareness plan?’ But some of it is how you build your satellites and rockets and and minimizing, from the very beginning of design, what your debris mitigation plan is.

Q: What are some suggestions for young people on how to break into a company like yours?

A: For our company in particular, you’ve got to have a keen interest in and passion to do two things. One, to make the world a better place. And I know that’s pretty cliche, but I understand that a lot of folks coming out of university are really looking today to make a difference and an impact in the world. So that needs to be there. That passion to make the world a better place needs to be there. We don’t want someone that’s a cog in the wheel, just taking a paycheck. We vet every employee against that, against our cultural values our core values: Integrity, trustworthiness, curiosity. Those that are self starters and want to to learn and have curiosity.


Q: What qualities do you look for in a potential employee?

A: You may not be an astrophysicist but you have the desire to learn about astro concepts or geospatial concepts. And so I think curiosity is a a big one. Of course you need some skill sets as well. And there are a lot of powerful coding languages out there.

Currently, we’re looking for full stack engineers and so sometimes right out of college, you don’t have everything across the across the entire stack. You’re good in the back end or the front end. And so those are skills that you gain in in companies. I also like to encourage that companies are looking for a full stack engineers right now, we are definitely one of them.

Q: High school people, when they’re talking to their guidance counselors, if they are aiming for the stars, should they really consider learning to code?

A: I think, just like languages when I was in school, was a prerequisite to graduate, I foresee coding being the same soon, and it certainly even for our astro side of the house, we look for astro dynamicists who know how to code. So I think coding whether it’s slingshot or another startup out there, coding is just essential to get in in in the door.

There’s other positions within the companies, but even on the sales side, you really need to be technically inclined to understand these very complex stacks and problems. Another thing we look for is that interpersonal capability. So not everyone has those skills. And and we can groom that,

Q: If someone wants to come to your company, what’s the first step they can take?

A: Hop online and hit or apply on the website.

Q: Any other words of advice for people who are trying to get into the world of aerospace?

A: Yeah. I would separate the word “aerospace” and think about which side of that you want to be on and drive towards that side of it. So it’s aircraft or space, and think hard about the passion behind those words.

For more information go to Slingshot Aerospace.