Image courtesy Slingshot Aerospace.
Earlier in 2021, US company Slingshot Aerospace announced a $1.2 million contract from US Space Force to create a virtual reality space simulator. Despite sounding like something out of a sci-fi film, the technology promises far-reaching applications for the way operators detect, understand, and deal with missile threats.
Let us look at what this technology is and what it means for the future of space defence.
We probably all know of the US Space Force, the almost satirical sounding new branch of the US Air Force. While its name is not the most inventive, its mission is simple (and important): to protect American interests in the latest frontier of conflict – space. To do so, it needs a wealth of innovative and disruptive technologies.
In comes Slingshot Aerospace, a first of its kind. Slingshot takes complex data patterns from space and terrestrial sources and converts them into clear and understandable information. This might not sound particularly innovative, but it is when you consider how many companies harvest and analyse their own data.
We could think of Slingshot as a type of software as a service (SaaS). As we discussed in our recent article on ground satellites, SaaS is creeping its way into the space industry as a pay-as-you-go option for companies needing complex data. Slingshot takes this a step further by ingesting data, passing it through layers of AI and machine learning technology, and presenting users with visualisations, reports, and trends.
Also involved in this contract is Zoic Labs, an American advanced visualisations company that specialises in turning big data into essentially pictures and videos. Its sister company Zoic Studios, uses the same technology to create special effects for films. As such, the line between science fiction and reality seems more blurred than ever before.
The Space Force contract is for a platform that converts overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) data into clear and usable information. OPIR sensors use radiation to detect and visualise missiles and other weapons, so adding this extra layer will give America an important edge over its adversaries.
Slingshot’s tool has three goals:
The US Department of Defense will launch its next generation of OPIR satellites in 2025, at which time it will begin using the Slingshot platform. To get it ready, Slingshot will process archived data from existing satellites to create prototype platforms and teach its machine learning technology. Once it has done this, we will likely see some real-world test cases.
Zoic Labs’ contribution is to turn this data processing into something interesting in the form of visuals. Clear data is one thing, but if operators have it in an easily digestible format assisted by virtual reality, it will be much more usable.
There is no denying the process is incredibly complex, but the mission is simple: create the missile detection system of the future. Considering Zoic Studios has worked on Hollywood titles such as Battlestar Galactica and Avengers: Age of Ultron, we may see some of this technology coming to life in the next few years.
Slingshot’s proposed platform is a big leap forward in detection technology; a vital step considering the increasingly important role space plays in national defence. It will be fascinating to see whether Zoic’s Hollywood pedigree influences the final product. News on the platform is currently sparse, so make sure you stay tuned for more in the future.