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
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
20 years of tech with Jeff: From green iMacs and DVDs to the iPhone era
When I started covering technology here two decades ago, I didn’t own a cellphone, nor did my company deem it in their interests to buy me one.
My tenure at USA TODAY pre-dates text messages, soundbars, talking speakers, QR codes, video chat, Uber, DoorDash, Zoom calls, YouTube, Wi-Fi, affordable flat-screen TVs….you get the idea.
So many changes in such a short period of time! This is my last column for USA TODAY as your Talking Tech columnist. Let’s say goodbye by celebrating how far we’ve come through the years.
My stint started in 2000 – I began at USA TODAY earlier, covering entertainment – at a time when we spent a lot of time talking about the big three tech companies: AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft. AOL had just shocked the world by buying Time Warner for $165 billion. (You know how well that turned out. But I digress.)
We did use computers, yes indeed, mostly desktops, and they were Windows machines with black-and-white monitors. We weren’t online; we went online, with a phone line attached to our computers. You know, the type we used on our landlines. Remember them?
Apple back then had less than 3% market share. It wouldn’t start its evolution into the world’s most valuable $2 trillion company until 2001, when it introduced the iPod MP3 music player and helped bring digital music to the masses. This is after the short-lived Napster popularized MP3s by showing how easy it was to copy licensed music. In 2003, the iPod shifted into a mainstream product when CEO Steve Jobs (who rejoined the company in 1997) opened it up to be used on Windows computers with the iTunes music store, the first easy to use, legitimate avenue for buying music, back then at 99 cents a song. Streaming and the celestial jukebox was a far off dream.
We started Talking Tech in 2006 as a weekly, ahead-of-its-time video series, produced bicoastally on two webcams. The first episode – with my former partner, Edward C. Baig – was a review of the Flip Video camera. Remember that one, kids?
By 2010, Flip was soon to be gone, as Apple introduced the iPhone 4, the first iPhone with a decent camera. Kodak became a memory, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and other mainstays of the camera business saw their sales tumble, as people preferred the camera that was in their pocket, their phone.
But I have to admit, I never foresaw just how great the smartphone cams would become. I always loved using them, but there was a stigma to “cellphone video.” Now we can shoot 4K video that looks nearly as good as what you get from a traditional camera, mostly due to computational photography tricks. But I’m not complaining. Have you seen my iPhone sunsets?
Then there’s Google and Facebook.
It was in 2000 that Yahoo handed over its search keys to a scrappy startup that said it had a method for more effective online searches. From there, we got Google stepping out onto its own in 2003 by sending people to its website and popularizing the verb, “Google It.” We got Google Maps (remember life without it?), Gmail (free e-mail without being tied to our internet provider), Google Translate, Google Photos and so many other features that I don’t think we could live without today.
That’s the good side.
There’s also Google tracking our every move, in order to put personalized ads in front of us everywhere we go, and saying goodbye to our privacy. Google will claim that much of the privacy invasion is “opt-in” and that we agreed to it when we signed up for services. But who remembers doing that?
Facebook took the snooping to an even greater level. But today’s column is about celebrating tech. So let’s bypass the misinformation and online rage that erupted from the social network and instead just give props to a site that reconnected some 2 billion people with old friends and family. I announced my pending exit on my newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. You know where I got the lion’s share of responses? Facebook, hands down.
Amazon. Who believed you could order anything you ever wanted with one click, and have it arrive the next day? By 2001 Amazon had announced its first profit, but it was more recently that we saw Amazon really showcase what was it was to become, by acquiring Whole Foods and launching Amazon Fresh, the supermarket with a radical cart that automatically tallied up your purchases, launching the smart speaker craze with Echo and Alexa and being a dominant force in streaming with Fire TV.
But Amazon missed out on phones. Google got in early, in 2008, with the Android operating system, which it grew by giving it away for free to companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei. That business model would enable Android to claim a whopping 85% market share, where it’s featured on so many low-cost phones.
If I had to pick the most influential tech device of my generation, there’s no hesitation. It’s the iPhone, hands down, even bigger than the VCR or the personal computer.
Because the iPhone (and other smartphone brands to follow) put the computer into our pockets, untethered and presented in a easy, intuitive way that appealed to the masses. Listen to music, answer the phone, watch TV, surf the net, all on one device. One in which we can also monitor our daily steps, show us how to get around and take amazing photos. (Again, those sunsets!)
I love my laptop, but it didn’t change my life.
So what of the future?
In 2016, I did a column quoting analysts saying that the smartphone as we know it, would cease and morph into some form of eyewear within the next few years. I didn’t believe it then, I don’t believe it now.
Having stuff flying in front of your eyes as you walk down the street is a distraction. (Take that, Google Glass.) We watched screens in the 1950s. We’re going to be looking at screens in the 2020s and 2030s.
Are you willing to pay for email? How about podcasts? Here are our tech predictions for 2021
It’s that time of year when we make predictions about what to see from technology in 2021.
We already know we’re good for new iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, new smart speakers from Amazon and beautiful new smart TV sets that will have higher resolution than ever before – at a lower cost.
So let’s offer up some tech predictions about what else we’ll see, or just might.
Let’s start with a given:
You’ll be paying for email in 2021
The world’s most popular email program Gmail, is owned by Google, which has decided to follow in Apple’s footsteps by getting more people hooked on monthly subscriptions. (Apple’s Services – which includes Apple Music, News and iCloud – is now its second-highest revenue generator, above Macs, iPads and Apple Watches.)
As of June 1, Google will no longer allow users to upload their photos and videos to Google Photos for free. Google offers 15 GBs of free storage for photos, but that also includes Gmail and Google Drive backup. The ask is that you pay for storage, which starts at $1.99 a month – but for just 100 GB of storage.
I don’t know about you, but my Gmail is 41 GBs worth now, I have 15 GBs worth of photos in Google Photos and 1.7 TBs on Google Drive.
Sure, I can clear out Google Drive, but the thing is, my email is a living, growing thing that is just not going to get smaller, no matter how hard I try to clean it up. It grows every day. So if you like your Gmail, get used to it – you might be paying.
Microsoft and Yahoo still offer free email, but they’re littered with ads, and you’re encouraged to step up to the “premium” versions, which starts at $5 and $3.49 a month, respectively, to go ad-free. Yahoo is eliminating the ability to automatically forward emails from Yahoo Mail beginning next week, unless you spend $34.99 a year for the service.
Big tech won’t find the new administration any friendlier
Facebook and Google’s woes in Washington, D.C., won’t change with a new Biden administration, we believe. The companies will continue to be hauled into Washington to defend against being broken up. President-elect Joe Biden has complained to the social network many times about all the disinformation coming out about him on Facebook, and the company declined to act. That certainly isn’t likely to play well in the Biden years.
The streaming wars will lose a big player
Many new streaming networks launched in 2020, most notably HBO Max and Peacock, and many more are on the horizon for 2021, including Paramount Plus and Discovery +, but at least one of the new networks will go down. Or so says my USA TODAY colleague Brett Molina, who puts Paramount Plus as the most likely victim.
Paramount Plus is the soon-to-be new name for what was CBS All-Access, with the addition of movies from the Paramount Pictures library and TV shows from the Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon) vault. “There’s just too many of them,” Molina says. “I can’t see it lasting.” (You will see many more first-run films on streaming channels in 2021, as Warner Media has announced its entire slate for HBO Max and Disney + has first-run fare scheduled as well.)
5G won’t get any better until late 2021
The launch of new phones with access to the supposedly faster wireless speed of 5G, and the wireless carriers’ breathless hype about speed left many consumers scratching their heads. The promised speeds were no faster than 4G. One day 5G will live up to the hype, but not until late 2021, believes Gene Munster, an analyst and investor with Loup Ventures. For real progress, we’ll have to wait for 2022.
Local retailers will find a way to compete with Amazon
It’s an aspirational wish, but “someone will solve the need and find a way to fill it,” says Kieran Hannon, the chief marketing officer for OpenPath, a company that offers next generation office entry technology. He believes a service will be developed to help local retailers compete with the Amazons of the world by letting customers order from a direct website serving locals and have products delivered to them at home, thus keeping sales in the neighborhood.
Zoom and video meetings will only get bigger
Business travel may start to come back from the dead in the second half of 2021, but all the companies that saved money from the trips won’t likely be as eager to send staffers traipsing around the country when meetings can be done cheaper and more efficiently via video.
Students will one day return to the classrooms, but company meetings, seminars, webinars and the like will likely continue. No need to return those ring lights to improve your appearance yet.
Speaking of Zoom, a possible acquisition?
The video networks is one hot property that saw its usage numbers climb from 10 million to 300 million amid the pandemic, making it one prime acquisition target. Who better to buy Zoom than Amazon?
The companies already work together, with Amazon Web Services providing the server backbone for all those Zoom meetings. Unlike Google, Apple and Facebook, which have their own well-established video networks (Google Meet, FaceTime and Messenger), Amazon doesn’t have one.
So with Zoom in the company, and all those meeting minutes (about 2 trillion in April alone,) what an attractive target that would make for Amazon to remind us to use Alexa and buy more stuff, right?
Pay for podcasts?
Finally, Munster from Loup Ventures believes Apple will follow its smash success with the Services division by introducing a new way for podcasters to make money on their shows by charging admission. He sees a “Podcast +” that sees everyone’s favorite audio shows (like Talking Tech) added to the Apple One bundle with Apple Music. “Good news for podcasters, who may see Apple as another avenue to monetize their listener base.”
We love it.
Happy New Year, everyone!
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