Welcome to Edition 2.45 of the Rocket Report! We're looking ahead to a monumental week of rocket launches with the first LauncherOne mission potentially taking flight on Sunday and the possible launch of Crew Dragon next Wednesday.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Orbit announces first launch attempt. On Wednesday, the company that has been developing LauncherOne for most of the last decade said it is ready to make a launch attempt. The rocket, which is dropped from a modified 747 aircraft, will not carry a customer's payload. The mission, which is being classified as a "launch demo," is set to take place between 10am and 2pm PT (17:00-21:00 UTC) on Sunday.
Now that's setting expectations … "Our goal is to safely learn as much as possible and prove out the LauncherOne system we've worked so hard to design, build, test and operate," the company said. "We'll continue the mission for as long as we can. The longer LauncherOne flies, the more data we'll be able to collect. Should we defy the historical odds and become one of those exceedingly rare teams to complete a mission on first attempt, we will deploy a test payload into an orbit, take our data, and then quickly de-orbit so as not to clutter the heavens." (submitted by Ken the Bin, JohnCarter17, and platykurtic)
Relativity nabs SpaceX launch and production VP. Relativity Space, a California-based company pushing hard toward the inaugural flight of its Terran 1 rocket by the end of 2021, has hired a senior launch official from SpaceX. Zach Dunn, formerly senior vice president of production and launch at SpaceX, will become vice president of factory development at Relativity, Ars reports.
Factory of the future … The well-capitalized startup recently announced plans to build a large 3D-printing factory in Long Beach, California. Dunn's first job will be to oversee the development of this facility, said Tim Ellis, co-founder of Relativity. "We really are looking to develop the factory of the future, as its own product," Ellis said. Dunn has a storied history at SpaceX, playing a key role in the development of the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets.
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SpaceX rideshare drives launch prices down. The Falcon 9 rideshare program the company started in August is putting downward pressure on the cost of launching small satellites, SpaceNews reports. "SpaceX is offering pricing that previously wasn't really seen," said Mike Safyan, vice president of launch at Planet, an Earth-imaging company with more than 150 small satellites in orbit. Planet announced last week that it will launch six SkySat satellites as rideshare payloads on future Starlink missions.
A hyper-competitive program … SpaceX advertises a base price of $1 million for launching up to 200 kilograms and $5,000 extra per kilogram. The rideshare program is "incredibly competitive," Safyan told SpaceNews. He called it "one of the more significant programs for the smallsat industry especially because of the pricing, the reliability and the number of orbits." The business case for smallsat launchers already seemed pretty difficult to close. This doesn't help. (submitted by Ken the Bin, JohnCarter17, and platykurtic)
Momentus signs additional contracts. Speaking of making life difficult for smallsat launch providers, this week Momentus Space announced contracts with video-streaming company Sen, satellite manufacturer Alba Orbital, and Polish nanosatellite startup SatRevolution. Momentus is developing vehicles to provide in-space propulsion for small satellites, SpaceNews reports.
A ride after your ride … One of the key criticisms of rideshare for small satellites is that launching a bundle of different satellites does not allow customers to enter desired orbits. However, a service like Momentus can take a small satellite deployed on a rideshare launch and move it where a company wants it to go. It's no surprise that several of Momentus' customers plan to launch on future Falcon 9 rideshare missions. (submitted by JohnCarter17).
Vega C launch debut likely delayed until 2021. Italian rocket builder Avio will keep a team of launch personnel in French Guiana from May through August in the hopes of completing three Vega launches this year, notwithstanding coronavirus-related slowdowns, SpaceNews reports. Work continues on the upgraded Vega C, but it probably will not fly before next year, Avio chief executive Giulio Ranzo said.
Workers back to French Guiana launch site … Vega is scheduled for a return-to-flight mission in mid-June that will be the rocket's first launch in 11 months. The rocket will carry 52 small satellites to low Earth orbit in a dedicated rideshare mission. After a nearly two-month pandemic shutdown, Avio sent a team of more than 60 people to the Guiana Space Center on May 11 to begin work. The team is subject to a 14-day quarantine. (submitted by JohnCarter17, platykurtic, and Ken the Bin)
Skyrora completes static-fire test of its rocket. During the ground test at a mobile launch complex at Kildermorie Estate in North Scotland earlier this month, Skyrora's launch vehicle Skylark L performed all actions of a launch while being held down, the company said. "This is the first time a launch vehicle of this magnitude has been tested in the UK for many years," said Jack-James Marlow, who led the test. "The vehicle is now ready for flight and we are one step closer to putting the UK back into space."
Aiming for an early 2021 launch … Skylark L is a bi-liquid-propellent, suborbital launch vehicle. Building up to the static-fire test, the rocket engine itself had gone through three hot-fire tests before integration into the vehicle. The company plans to use its own Ecosene fuel, an equivalent kerosene fuel made from un-recyclable plastic waste. Skyrora intends to start launching the Skylark L next spring and move to orbital flights by 2023. (submitted by Ken the Bin)
NASA got a stunning value in the Falcon 9. With the first flight of humans atop a Falcon 9 rocket coming as early as next Wednesday, Ars takes a look back at the origin's of NASA's commercial crew and cargo programs. As part of its initial investment of $396 million into SpaceX, NASA got development of the Cargo Dragon, Falcon 9, and a launch site at Cape Canaveral.
A cost of 50 times more … At the same time, NASA was developing the Ares I rocket to fly crew into low Earth orbit. Independent estimates placed the cost of Ares I at about $20 billion. President Obama ultimately canceled the Ares I, projected to have a similar lift capacity to the modern Falcon 9 booster, because it was behind schedule and over budget. The agency, in turn, got a bargain.
Ariane 6 inaugural launch likely delayed until 2021. The first launch of Europe's next-generation large rocket appears all but certain to slip into 2021 because of development delays the European Space Agency and the rocket's manufacturer ArianeGroup attribute to the coronavirus pandemic, SpaceNews reports. Before the crisis, Arianespace had planned on Ariane 6 making its debut between October and December.
More clarity will come … "ESA is working intensely, and very closely with all actors involved, industry and CNES, to stabilize and consolidate the planning," Daniel Neuenschwander, the director of space transportation at the European Space Agency, told the publication. "Today we are daily addressing the preliminary impacts and preparing to return to a stable level of activity. We will fully consolidate the planning and assess the full impact of COVID-19 on Ariane 6 once we have more clarity on how the European economy will be able to function in the coming months." (submitted by JohnCarter17, Ken the Bin, and platykurtic)
SpaceX delays next Starlink mission. Citing a tropical storm in the downrange booster recovery zone, SpaceX said Monday that a launch of up to 60 more Starlink Internet satellites will be delayed, Spaceflight Now reports. The mission had previously been planned this for week from Cape Canaveral and will now be delayed until after the launch of the company's first crewed flight.
Testing limits of reuse … The reusable first stage slated for launch on this Starlink mission has flown four times before. SpaceX hopes to recover it again for inspections and more potential flights. It will provide critical data as the company seeks to test out the limit on flights that a Falcon 9 booster can achieve without major refurbishment. (submitted by Ken the Bin and JohnCarter17)
Atlas V rocket successfully launches. As it does, United Launch Alliance's Atlas V booster made a smooth flight to orbit on Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It carried the X-37B space plane into orbit for the Space Force for what is likely to be a two-year mission.
Some sweet pics … This launch was delayed from Saturday morning due to poor weather over the Florida-based spaceport. Clearer skies on Sunday meant that images captured by remote cameras set up by Ben Cooper, who shoots photos for United Launch Alliance, benefited from clear skies and brilliant sunlight. If you need some rocket eye candy, it's worth checking out.
Japan's H-2B rocket makes final flight. The booster conducted its final mission Thursday, launching the ninth and last H-2 Transfer Vehicle spacecraft to the International Space Station, Read More – Source
Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic
Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.
Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.
The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.
Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.
Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.
The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.
Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.
“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”
Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.
“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.
Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.
It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.
That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.
Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.
As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.
There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.
But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.
Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.
Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.
But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.
These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?
Facebook Apple feud
Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.
The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.
Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.
Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.
The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.
It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.
It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504
The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week
“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.
Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.
In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.
Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.
But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”
His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.
Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”
Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”
Rags to riches
Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.
In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.
But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”
The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.
Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.
Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.
But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”
During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.
“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.
Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.
As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”
Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”
Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler
Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.
Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.
But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.
Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.
On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”
Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.
While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.
It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.
However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.
Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?
By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring
For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.
As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.
This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.
In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.
Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.
Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.
However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.
This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.
In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.
“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.
It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.
Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.
But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”
“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”
In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.
The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.
“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.
“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”
The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.
“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887
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