Air Force selects Slingshot Aerospace to bring artificial intelligence into space surveillance
COLORADO SPRINGS — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded Los Angeles-based Slingshot Aerospace a $6 million two-year contract to customize the company’s Orbital Atlas predictive space situational awareness software for possible military use.
The commercially developed Orbital Atlas “will enable warfighters to pivot from traditional space situational awareness focusing on space catalog maintenance toward a more tactical, predictive solution,” said Melanie Stricklan, chief technology officer and co-founder of Slingshot Aerospace.
The company uses artificial intelligence to analyze data from satellites, aerial drones and other sources. Slingshot announced the Air Force award on Friday and will be demonstrating the Orbital Atlas this week at the Space Symposium’s “Orbit Lounge.”
The contract was a competitive award by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Superiority Systems Directorate. “SMC is eager to tap into the innovations of artificial intelligence and cloud computing,” Stricklan said.
The decision to try out a commercial system like Orbital Atlas for space control activities comes as the Air Force seeks to augment government-developed technology to detect and characterize space threats. The Air Force for years has been developing the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System Increment 2, known as JMS, as its next-generation space situational awareness system. The program has been plagued by development problems and setbacks.
Air Force leaders are now treating space as a contested battleground and want space operators to have deeper insight into what is happening in space beyond the traditional tracking of orbital objects. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are being developed in the private sector, and the military wants to use that technology to better understand what is occurring in space and predict what could happen next.
Stricklan said Orbital Atlas provides details on every space object orbiting the Earth and it also functions as a predictive modeling engine that applies machine learning to the massive flow of space observation and other contextual data streams like weather. The system characterizes patterns so it can predict events, collisions and the trajectory of debris.
The commercial version of Orbital Atlas does not track classified satellites. Under the Air Force contract, Slingshot Aerospace would further develop it for military use.
Orbital Atlas will be tested at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and the National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
Stricklan said the system is intuitive so airmen can quickly understand potential risks to spacecraft as they monitor the space environment. Slingshot plans to add geospatial intelligence to Orbital Atlas in the future to give space operators information about what is happening on the ground, such as missile launch activity.