Mission Critical
March 14, 2024

Why We Left SpaceX to Build Sift

Right now, we are living in the most auspicious time in all of history. Technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, and we’re building futuristic machines that are creating a better world for us all. Space exploration is advancing at a phenomenal rate. State-of-the-art robotics are increasing overall efficiency and safety in numerous sectors, and machines are creating new opportunities in transportation, energy, communications, and so much more.

Except there is just one problem.

We can’t keep building these innovative machines using the same tools designed for the past. We can't travel to other planets with a space craft built the same way we built shuttles 50 years ago. Right now, engineers are reinventing their tools while they’re busy building their machines, and when mistakes occur they can be massive.

These mistakes are often caused by preventable errors, and they’re wasting billions of dollars while threatening public safety. Take for instance the 2019 Boeing Starliner failure that put a spacecraft in the wrong orbit, or the ispace lunar crash in 2023. Better software could have also helped us detect and prevent the issue that led to the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment last year. And even more examples of this problem occur nearly every day, our news cycle is full of mishaps that could have been prevented.

The 2019 Boeing Starliner

We need to adapt to this new, rapidly evolving world. The next decade ahead of us is going to feature incredible, life-changing technological strides, requiring advanced software that can support this kind of exponential growth — software that allows creators to build, test, and operate complex machines in ways previously not possible.

A bright new future

The machines of tomorrow are currently being built today — right now, all around the globe. And they’re getting more and more complex, with multiple different subsystems that must work in concert to perform mission critical tasks. These are the kinds of machines that must successfully function in harsh environments — from the brutal void of space to constantly changing weather patterns — and they must do so for years or decades.

Along with this increase in hardware complexity, there is a growing need for more complicated software that can power these machines. It’s a critical component to growth and yet it’s often undervalued — even though software makes up almost half the bill of materials of a modern machine.

As the complexity of these machines continues to rise, we’re going to see more and more failures — especially if archaic manual processes persist.

There is a reason public and private entities are sluggish about upgrading their tools and workflows. Before Sift, you’d have to build all of your tools in-house. This takes a huge investment of time and money, and allocating some of your best talent to the problem — and typically the tools you build are only designed to tackle just one problem.

So, why not just keep limping by with the legacy tools we have? They got us this far, didn’t they? As the complexity of these machines continues to rise, we’re going to see more and more failures — especially if archaic manual processes persist. Right now, engineers are manually solving problems that automated tools could be solving for them, at great risk of error and attrition.

We can reduce risk and improve a mission’s probability of success by identifying processes where humans don’t need to be in the loop — particularly those areas where it would be better if they weren’t. Why are we making humans conduct manual data review, when automated tools can analyze petabytes of hardware sensor data and flag anomalies much better than a human can?

We need tools that get humans out of the loop if we ever want to scale effectively and efficiently. The right software can actually accelerate processes and mitigate risk from the R&D phase all the way to launch and beyond.

The places we could go

Accelerating hardware development in an industry of unknowns can feel like a constant shot in the dark. Innovation requires courage, confidence, and an unending supply of resilience. It means enduring failure after failure to achieve something groundbreaking.

We all know the famous Thomas Edison quote, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t.” This kind of ambition isn’t for the faint of heart — even when everything actually goes right. But where technology has succeeded, it has brought us extraordinary things.

Technological innovation has brought about the modern aircraft, creating a new world of global mobility. The first lunar mission made space travel a reality. Wi-fi completely altered the way we communicate, transforming the speed at which we receive information. The internet connected us all, allowing us to share ideas and experiences worldwide, and geo-locative services gave us smart, effortless navigation.

Continued, enormous strides are still underway. Can you imagine? Picture a world where unlimited energy is delivered to us by nuclear fusion. A domino effect would occur, giving countries energy security and diffusing global conflict. It would give us clean and sustainable power, economic growth, improved quality of life, environmental conservation and clean water.

How about clean transportation? Or automated freight rail supply chains? We’d experience reduced emissions, cleaner air, lower traffic issues, and safety improvements, along with optimized routing and scheduling.

Imagine interplanetary space travel, where we could make important scientific discoveries, explore new resources and create opportunities for all of humanity. There is no limit to the benefits of increased space exploration and where it could lead.

Moving away from old paradigms

The simple truth is that the old ways of doing things don’t allow for machine creators to build for the future, and they’re holding us back. Legacy systems make it difficult to collaborate and scale, stifling our ability to iterate and test reliably. Any chance at human progress is hamstrung by outdated tech and processes — which don’t provide the necessary framework for important, revolutionary strides.

These legacy systems are currently wasting valuable engineering iteration cycles and billions of dollars on resources that can’t get us where we want to go, and they only serve to prioritize job creation over necessary innovation. Ultimately, this translates to a scenario no one wants: fleets of complicated machines run by antiquated systems that simply don’t measure up to today’s standards. What a nightmare.

Legacy systems make it difficult to collaborate and scale, stifling our ability to iterate and test reliably.

What you end up with is a scenario like Boeing’s failed Starliner mission in 2019, or something much worse. After thousands of engineer hours spent perfecting the Starliner spacecraft throughout the entire development process, you would expect any kind of launch failure to be hardware related — like a frozen O-ring or ice hitting the space shuttle. But instead it was software-based and completely preventable.

The amount of money lost due to that malfunction could have paid for better software several times over. And when we apply this kind of hindsight to disasters like the East Palestine train derailment it becomes about more than just money. The right tools could have alerted engineers to the issue with the train’s wheel bearings before they failed, and thereby prevented a major public health catastrophe.

Why we’re building Sift

It’s clear that better software is needed in order for machines to continue improving and scaling in ways that are proficient, safe, and cost-effective. That’s why we invented Sift. We want a better tomorrow, and this is our way of improving the world with our unique, highly-specialized expertise. Building things that don’t exist today is high-stakes work — we’ve done it ourselves for years.

Utilizing our own past experience building rockets for SpaceX, we understand that machine development demands data; constant, real-time information that gives engineers continuous and accurate feedback. For mission-critical machines helping people, the planet, our universe, tools that can handle this data are essential.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking.

In order to get where we want to go, we also need to democratize access to these kinds of tools to encourage and enable disruptive innovation. So, we’re amplifying our own expertise and paving the way for a world we want to see, by providing a software platform that supports innovation — to both government and private sectors.

At Sift, we’re here to make science fiction a reality. Advanced tools are a crucial building block to making big, futuristic concepts a global reality. They can create success where there would otherwise be failure, and it accelerates progress where we need it the most.

Welcome to Sift

We’re changing the landscape by putting power back into the hands of machine creators, allowing them to use data more effectively — faster, simpler, and more securely. With collaborative tools and automated processes, Sift improves the focus of hardware engineers, getting them back to what they’re good at, which is inventing solutions for the world’s biggest problems.

We’ve pioneered a new paradigm through a process of breaking down problems to first principles, and building every part of an observability stack in a smarter way. By doing so, we're empowering creators to invent machines that previously only nation states could.

Just take a moment and think about all of the new ideas, devices, methods, and solutions that can now emerge from simply opening up access to right tools for building advanced machines. With the ability to automate data review, we’re allowing creators to scale beyond what humans can traditionally operate. Anything is possible.

The interior of a tokamak fusion reactor.

When it comes to cost, in-house systems just can’t measure up. Not only does Sift cost our customers one-tenth of the price of building a comparable system in-house, those savings don’t even include rebuilding costs when an in-house system breaks while scaling. When these systems break, it usually occurs in a less-than-ideal time, like during a mission critical operation. In-house systems also require dedicated engineers to build them, where that talent could be better utilized elsewhere.

We're empowering creators to invent machines that previously only nation states could.

By allowing innovators to push beyond existing boundaries and ensuring favorable outcomes, Sift is much more than just a cost saving product. Instead of building an entire bespoke in-house system, our customers get access to an elite talent pool of engineers who understand the challenges of hardware development, and who come with a proven record of mission success.

Sift was born from experience at SpaceX and molded by expertise from tech sector giants like Google, Palantir, and Amazon. We’re already serving teams doing future-shifting work in aerospace, aviation, defense, energy, and transportation. Sift provides these teams a scalable infrastructure with no-code visualization tools, giving non-software engineers and operators the power to interact with their machines. It facilitates the scaling process by using common understanding that integrates into the customer’s world — at every level.

Creating new things, together

We can’t help but marvel at what could be possible at the intersection of forward-thinking machines and an adaptable observability stack. With the ability to access advanced tools, the speed and ingenuity by which machine builders can innovate will rise exponentially.

Sift makes important, much-needed changes at a foundational level, allowing machine creators to grow and scale faster and with greater accuracy. This is no small thing. With greater accuracy we can achieve a superior level of machine performance, and avoid the kind of errors that lead to catastrophe.

The world of tomorrow could be right here on our doorstep.

An advanced observability stack provides us with not just a safer world, but one in which new ideas can flourish. With greater visibility and control of the data behind the complex machines of the future, there is no limit to what we can do, and how fast we can do it. The world of tomorrow could be right here on our doorstep.

Sift provides the impetus to move us forward, and with it we will see more incredible advances in our own lifetime, beyond what we can even imagine today. Moon bases, interplanetary travel, unlimited energy — if you can dream it, you can create it. Instead of global conflict, declining resources, tragic disasters, and struggling economies, think of what the advanced machines of tomorrow could bring us. Go ahead… dream big.

At Sift, we don’t just ponder what’s possible. We’re committed to making it a reality, by continuously improving our software so you can focus on exploring new frontiers. We’re accelerating the advent of next-generation machines, thereby improving our lives on and off the planet.