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Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Locke & Key’ offers spooky delights

By Anthony Ha

At times, it can be hard to tell exactly who “Locke & Key” was made for.

Adapted from a comic book series written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, the show tells the story of the Locke family after they move into the mysterious Keyhouse, where they soon discover hidden keys that can be used for a variety of magical purposes.

With its emphasis on adolescent romance and magical powers, “Locke & Key” often feels like a young adult adaptation, but it also strays into darker territory, with plenty of horror, as well as a persuasive focus on the family’s ongoing trauma following the violent death of husband/father Rendell Locke.

Despite some quibbles, your Original Content podcast hosts agree that the show manages to balance these different elements effectively, with surprising plot twists, creepy visuals and a particularly compelling sibling relationship between the two teenaged Lockes, Tyler (played by Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones).

In addition to reviewing the show, we also discuss the announcement that Netflix has acquired Adam McKay’s next film, “Don’t Look Up,” which will star Jennifer Lawrence. We had less to say about the movie itself and more about our respective attitudes towards a potential asteroid apocalypse.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:35 “Don’t Look Up” discussion
14:19 “Locke and Key” spoiler-free review
29:48 “Locke and Key” spoiler discussion

SpaceX alumni are helping build LA’s startup ecosystem

By Jonathan Shieber

During the days when Snapchat’s popularity was booming, investors thought the company would become the anchor for a new Los Angeles technology scene.

Snapchat, they hoped, would spin-off entrepreneurs and angel investors who would reinvest in the local ecosystem and create new companies that would in turn foster more wealth, establishing LA as a hub for tech talent and venture dollars on par with New York and Boston.

In the ensuing years, Los Angeles and its entrepreneurial talent pool has captured more attention from local and national investors, but it’s not Snap that’s been the source for the next generation of local founders. Instead, several former SpaceX employees have launched a raft of new companies, capturing the imagination and dollars of some of the biggest names in venture capital.

“There was a buzz, but it doesn’t quite have the depth of bench of people that investors wanted it to become,” says one longtime VC based in the City of Angels. “It was a company in LA more than it was an LA company.” 

Perhaps the most successful SpaceX offshoot is Relativity Space, founded by Jordan Noone and Tim Ellis. Since Noone, a former SpaceX engineer, and Ellis, a former Blue Origin engineer, founded their company, the business has been (forgive the expression) a rocket ship. Over the past four years, Relativity href="https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/01/relativity-a-new-star-in-the-space-race-raises-160-million-for-its-3-d-printed-rockets/"> has raised $185.7 million, received special dispensations from NASA to test its rockets at a facility in Alabama, will launch vehicles from Cape Canaveral and has signed up an early customer in Momentus, which provides satellite tug services in orbit.

Max Q: SpaceX gets ready for first human flight

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week turned out to be a surprisingly busy one in space news — kicked off by the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget proposal, which was generous to U.S. space efforts both in science and in defense.

Meanwhile, we saw significant progress in SpaceX’s commercial crew program, and plenty of activity among startups big and small.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon arrives in Florida

The spacecraft that SpaceX will use to fly astronauts for the first time is now in Florida, at its launch site for final preparations before it takes off. Currently, this Crew Dragon mission is set to take place sometime in early May, and though that may still shift, it’s looking more and more likely it’ll happen within the next few months.

NASA taps Rocket Lab for Moon satellite launch

Rocket Lab will play a key role in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to get humans back to the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA contracted Rocket Lab to launch its CAPSTONE CubeSat to a lunar orbit in 2021, using Rocket Lab’s new Proton combined satellite and long-distance transportation stage.

Astronomers continue to sound the alarm about constellations

Starlink satellites streak through a telescope’s observations.

Astronomers and scientists that rely on observing the stars from Earth are continuing to warn about the impact on stellar observation from constellations that are increasingly dotting the night sky.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just launched another 60 satellites for its Starlink constellation, bringing the total on orbit to 300. SpaceX founder Elon Musk says that the “albedo” or reflectivity of satellites will drop “significantly” going forward, however.

Blue Origin is opening its new rocket factory

Blue Origin is opening its new rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Ala. on Monday. The new site will be responsible for high-volume production of the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine, which will be used on the company’s own New Glenn orbital rocket as well as the ULA’s forthcoming Vulcan heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Virgin Galactic’s first commercial spacecraft moves to its spaceport

Virgin Galactic is getting closer to actually flying its first paying space tourists — it just moved its SpaceShipTwo “VSS Unity” vehicle from its Mojave manufacturing site to its spaceport in New Mexico, which is where tourists will board for their short trips to the edge of outer space.

Astranis raises $90 million

Satellite internet startup Astranis has raised a $90 million Series B funding round, which includes a mix of equity ($40 million) and debt facility ($50 million). The company will use the money to get its first commercial satellites on orbit as it aims to build a next-generation geostationary internet satellite business.

Astroscale will work with JAXA on an orbital debris-killing system


Orbital debris is increasingly a topic of discussion at events and across the industry, and Japanese startup Astroscale is one of the first companies dedicated to solving the problem. The startup has been tapped by JAXA for a mission that will seek to de-orbit a spent rocket upper stage, marking one of the first efforts to remove a larger piece of orbital debris.

Register for TC Sessions: Space 2020

Our very own dedicated space event is coming up on June 25 in Los Angeles, and you can get your tickets now. It’s sure to be a packed day of quality programming from the companies mentioned above and more, so go ahead and sign up while Early-Bird pricing applies.

Plus, if you have a space startup of your own, you can apply now to participate in our pre-event pitch-off, happening June 24.

Original Content podcast: ‘Mythic Quest’ is a likable comedy with a single standout episode

By Anthony Ha

There’s plenty to like about “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a new series on Apple TV+ — its sympathetic-but-critical portrayal of the video game industry, its goofy-but-likable characters and a couple of big surprises that come at the end of the season.

But what really stood out to us — as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast — was a single episode, “A Dark Quiet Death.”

Without getting into spoilers, it’s probably safe to reveal that the episode mostly stands apart from the rest of the season, telling a self-contained story about two characters (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) who, after they create a quirky horror video game that turns into a surprise hit, discover that success isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Where the rest of “Mythic Quest” is a broad comedy (with the aforementioned likable characters and surprising plot), “A Dark Quiet Death” is more of a drama that quietly — but agonizingly — portrays the tensions between commerce and art. And if we have a criticism, it’s that the episode’s achievement can make the rest of the show feel a little silly in comparison.

We also discuss Anthony’s interview with the creators of the show and how “Mythic Quest” might have been shaped by the involvement of video game company Ubisoft. And before we begin the review, we react to this year’s Oscars.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:27 Oscars discussion
17:54 “Mythic Quest” review
50:31 “Mythic Quest” spoiler discussion

Blue Origin’s new rocket engine production facility opens on Monday

By Darrell Etherington

Blue Origin is opening its new rocket engine production center in Huntsville, Alabama on Monday, the company said today on Twitter. The new Huntsville facility will be able to produce its rocket engines at a much higher rate than is currently possible, which will be useful as the company is using its in-development BE-4 engine for its own New Glenn rocket, as well as for supplying the United Launch Alliance with thrust for its new Vulcan launch vehicle.

Blue Origin started working on BE-4 bacon 2011, and though it was originally designed for use specifically on Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket, which is its first orbital launch vehicle, in 2014 ULA announced it would be using the engines to power its own next-generation Vulcan craft as well. BE-4 has 550,000 lbs of thrust using a mixture of liquid natural gas and oxygen for fuel, and is designed from the ground-up for heavy lift capability.

On Monday, we open our high rate rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, AL. In anticipation of that, we wanted to show a little love for our #BE4 engine progress. https://t.co/YojnGQG0O4 pic.twitter.com/Iz4DAzjqCn

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) February 14, 2020

Blue Origin says it will delivery the first two production BE-4 engines this year, with deliveries to ULA to integrate them on the Vulcan for its first static hot fire tests. Blue also aims to fly New Glenn equipped with the engines for their first test flight in 2021. It’s in the process of running longer tests to prove out the engines, and will aim to quality them in their entirely through life cycle testing, which aims to replicate the kind of stress and operating conditions the hardware will undergo through its actual lifetime use.

Part of Blue Origin’s testing process will include retrofitting and upgrading Test Stand 4670 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, allowing the company to test a BE-3 engine one side and a BE-4 engine on the other.

It’s an exciting time for Blue and its BE-4, and the engine has been a long time in the making. What comes next could set it up as an integral and core part of the U.S. space launch program going forward, regardless of how its own launch vehicle plans proceed.

Netflix fishes for new subscribers in US with free stream of ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

By Sarah Perez

Netflix is looking to get young adults hooked on its service by making its popular teenage rom-com, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” available to stream for free to everyone in the U.S., including non-subscribers. This isn’t the first time Netflix has offered free streaming — it teased Brits last year by offering an episode of “The Crown” for free, and has run similar tests in markets like India and parts of South America. But this is one of the only times it has targeted the U.S. with such an offer.

Love is in the air! To celebrate, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is available for everybody in The US (and additional selected markets) to watch through March 9! pic.twitter.com/7I0c8omKqg

— Netflix US (@netflix) February 11, 2020

The offer of a free Netflix movie comes at a critical time for the service.

The company has hit a wall in terms of subscriber growth in the U.S., even as it’s expanding worldwide. During last month’s earnings, Netflix missed its forecast for U.S. subscriber growth for the third straight quarter, with just 423,000 domestic subscriber additions. Meanwhile, it surpassed expectations overseas with 8.3 million subscribers added instead of the 7 million expected.

Netflix has downplayed the impact of new streaming services, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, on its U.S. growth. But in reality, Netflix will soon be one of many streaming options for U.S. consumers to choose from — HBO Max, NBCU’s Peacock and mobile-only Quibi are set to arrive this year, filling up an already crowded market.

In addition, Netflix’s slowing growth in the U.S. also can be attributed to, in part, continued price increases for a catalog that’s now more dependent than ever on Netflix’s original programming to keep subscribers hooked. And those originals haven’t always performed well. In Q2, for example, the company even singled out its weak content slate for driving fewer paid net adds than anticipated.

Beyond that, there’s also growing criticism that Netflix’s originals just aren’t as good as they used to be.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” on the other hand, is more of an exception. While the film itself is a cute, if fairly conventional, high school romance story, it became one of Netflix’s “most viewed” original films to date. The movie, and other Netflix rom-coms like it, were watched by 80 million subscribers over the summer in 2018, the company also said. These films appeal to an underserved market — people hungry for lightweight romances at a time when the industry is delivering anything but.

By year-end 2018, Netflix had greenlit a sequel to its breakout hit. That movie, “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You,” has now arrived — making for a perfect time to promote the original.

Non-members are able to watch the free movie on the web and Android OS now through March 9. No credit card will need to be provided to watch.

Update: Confirmed with Netflix this is not the first time in U.S. It is one of the most high-profile U.S. free streams, however. 

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary feels like a guarded self-portrait

By Anthony Ha

“Miss Americana,” a new Netflix documentary about Taylor Swift, is worth watching — if you go in with the right expectations.

At least, that’s according to two out of three hosts of the Original Content podcast. Darrell was the holdout; he didn’t hate the movie or think it was poorly made, but he’s much more skeptical about celebrity culture in general and argues that everyone would be better off ignoring celebrities altogether.

Your other hosts don’t go quite that far. Instead, we admit to a guarded admiration for Swift and her music, and we enjoyed “Miss Americana” as a window into Swift’s world. Not a completely transparent window — despite being directed by Lana Wilson, the film feels like it was guided by Swift’s perspective, focusing on her chosen themes of tabloid persecution and political awakening — but a revealing one nevertheless.

What comes across clearly is the utter insanity of the musician’s life, lived under intense (and often unfair) media scrutiny.

The film also demonstrates the extraordinary talent, ambition and luck that Swift must have needed to get where she is. And it boasts a few glimpses into her songwriting and recording process, and into what appears to have been an agonizing decision to endorse Democrat Phil Bredesen’s ultimately unsuccessful run for one of Tennessee’s Senate seats in 2018.

In addition to reviewing the film, we also discuss Netflix’s decision to make auto-play previews optional.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:28 Netflix auto-play discussion
5:02 “Miss Americana” review

Trump said to propose roughly $3 billion NASA budget boost for 2021

By Darrell Etherington

President Donald Trump is set to request a budget of $25.6 billion for NASA for its fiscal 2021 operating year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It’s looking for nearly $3 billion more than the $22.6 billion NASA had for its current fiscal year, and the bulk of the new funding is said to be earmarked for development of new human lunar landers.

This represents one of the single largest proposed budget increases for NASA in a couple of decades, but reflects Trump’s renewed commitment to the agency’s efforts as expressed during the State of the Union address he presented on February 4, during which he included a request to Congress to “fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has frequently repeated the agency’s goal of sending the first American woman and the next American man to the surface of the Moon by 2024, a timeline the current mission cadence of the Artemis program is designed against. Bridenstine has previously discussed esimated total costs for getting back to the Moon by 2024 at between $20-30 billion, and the Administrator was pressed by a House Appropriations Subcommittee late last year about a $1.6 billion late-stage add-on request for the agency’s fiscal 2020 budget.

The WSJ also reports that NASA will be looking to solicit bids on lunar landers as part of its 2021 budgetary plans, which echoes its previous efforts with the launch vehicles for the Artemis program. Already, NASA is working with a host of commercial partners on an authorized vendor list for robotic, uncrewed lunar lander mission to deliver experiments and supplies to the lunar surface starting in 2021.

NASA released a broad agency announcement for industry comment regarding a human lander system for Artemis last July, along with a revised version in August, and then opened a call for formal proposals in September 2019. A couple of winners for a human-rated lander to carry NASA astronauts are expected, with the agency saying that the time that the first company to complete its lander will provide the vehicle for the 2024 landing, while the second will support another mission in 2025. with potential competitors vying for the prize including legacy companies like Boeing, as well as newer entrants like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Trump is set to submit his administration’s budget on February 10.

Why Astra built a space startup and rocket factory in Silicon Valley

By Darrell Etherington

There’s a new launch startup in the mix called Astra, which has been operating in semi-stealth mode for the past three years, building its rockets just a stone’s throw from the heart of startup central in Alameda County, Calif. Astra’s approach isn’t exactly a secret — its founders didn’t set out to hide anything and industry observers have followed its progress — but CEO Chris Kemp says he’s not particularly bothered about flying under the radar, so to speak.

Yes, the company had a somewhat splashy mainstream public premiere via a Bloomberg Businessweek profile on Monday, but that was more by virtue of writer Ashlee Vance’s keen interest in the emerging space economy than a desire for publicity on the part of Kemp or his cohorts. In fact, the CEO admitted to me that were it not for Vance’s desire to expound on the company’s efforts and a forthcoming attempt at winning a $12 million DARPA prize for responsive rocketry, Astra would still be content to continue to operate essentially undercover.

That’s just one way in which Astra differs from other space startups, which typically issue press releases and coordinate media events around each and every launch. Kemp, a former NASA CTO, and Adam London, an aerospace engineer who previously founded rocket miniaturization startup Ventions, designed their rocket startup from the ground up in a way that’s quite different from companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab.

“I’ve never been to one of our launches,” Kemp told me, referring to two test launches that Astra flew previously, both of which technically failed shortly into their flights. “Because I don’t think the CEO, or frankly any of our employees, should be anywhere near the rocket when it launches; we should automate everything. As much as possible, let’s put the rockets where they need to launch from, which might be an island on the equator, and it might be way up north near the poles, but let’s not add cost by putting a huge spaceport with fixed fortification in a very expensive place where it’s very hard to get to.”

Max Q: SpaceX’s Starlink constellation grows again

By Darrell Etherington

Max Q is a new weekly newsletter all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Sundays in your inbox.

This week was the busiest yet for space-related news in 2020, thanks in part to the 23rd Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference that happened last week. The event saw participation from just about every company who has anything to do with commercial spaceflight, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, and dove deep on questions of regulation and congressional support for NASA’s Artemis program.

Our own TC Sessions: Space 2020 event, which is happening June 25 in LA, will zero in on the emerging startup economy that plays such a crucial role in commercial space, and it’s sure to touch on the same topics but get into a lot more detail on the innovation side of things as well.

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites – second Starlink launch already in 2020

SpaceX is clearly very eager to get its Starlink satellite broadband network operational, as the company has already launched not one, but two batches of 60 satellites for its constellation in 2020. After a launch early in January, the latest batch when up on January 29, moving SpaceX closer to the total volume of satellites needed for it to begin offering service in North America, its first target market for the (eventually) world-spanning network.

Rocket Lab launches its first mission in 2020

Busy launch week for new space launch companies, as Rocket Lab also launched a mission – its first of 2020. The launch was on behalf of client the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, delivering a surveillance satellite for the U.S. intelligence agency. This is part of a new program the NRO has in place to quickly secure launch vehicles for small satellites, departing from its traditional practice of using large, geostationary Earth observation spacecraft.

NASA and Maxar to demo in-orbit spacecraft assembly

NASA and its partner Maxar are planning to demonstrate orbital manufacturing in a big way using a robotic platform in space that will assemble a new multipanel reflector antenna. It’ll also refuel a satellite in space, both demonstrations that would go a long way towards proving out the viability and potential commercial benefit of doing maintenance, upgrades and spacecraft assembly in orbit.

NASA teams with Axiom Space on first commercial ISS habitat module

NASA has tapped space station startup Axiom to build its first commercial module for the ISS designed to receive and house commercial astronauts. It’s a place designed for both work (research and science experimentation) and play (potentially receiving future paying orbital tourists) and it’s step one of Axiom’s grand vision for a fully private space station. Axiom is founded by a former ISS manager whose mission is to ensure we don’t lose human presence in orbit following the Space Station’s eventual decommission.

SpaceX looks to Port of LA for Starship manufacture

Starship Mk1 night

SpaceX will eventually have to manufacture a lot of Starships to meet founder Elon Musk’s ambitious goals for frequent flights and Mars colonization. Musk wants to build 1,000 Starships over the course of the next decade, and talks are ongoing with the Port of LA to potentially manufacture at least some of them there, where there’s easy access to water for shipping the rockets to launchpads including SpaceX’s Florida facilities.

Space needs an exit

Space startups are seeing record investment, and a record number of seed rounds indicating ample interest in starting new companies – but investors are still watching for that next big exit. They’ve been few and far between in the sector, which is not something you want to see if you want the hype to continue.

Kepler will build its satellites in Toronto

Satellite constellation startup Kepler Communication is going to be building its IoT small satellites in-house in downtown Toronto. Not necessarily everyone’s first choice when building satellites, but Kepler wants to keep things to its own backyard to eventually realize cost efficiencies, and to closely align design and development with manufacturing.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ provides a gripping, painful look at competitive cheerleading

By Anthony Ha

“Cheer,” a new documentary series on Netflix, may be singlehandedly changing the way many people think about cheerleading.

The show follows the competitive cheerleading team at Navarro College in Texas as they prepare to compete once more in the national championships, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a physically demanding sport, requiring extraordinary strength and coordination — and resulting in serious injuries when things go wrong.

Those injuries have spurred a broader conversation about whether or not coach Monica Aldama, along with the organizations and institutions that behind competitive cheerleading, are doing enough to protect the cheerleaders. We had very different opinions on the issue, and on Aldama herself, leading to an extended debate on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast.

One thing that we all agreed on, however, is that the documentary offers an illuminating look at a world that most of us only knew through the teen comedy “Bring It On.” It’s filled with compelling characters — not just Aldama, but also many of the students on her team, with the show taking the time to sketch out their often difficult or even tragic childhoods.

Before our review of “Cheer,” we also discuss a report that Netflix laid off part of its marketing team as part of a broader shift in promotional strategy.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:43 Netflix marketing news
8:27 “Cheer” spoiler-free review
43:27 “Cheer” spoiler discussion

Relativity Space could change the economics of private space launches

By Darrell Etherington

The private launch market is an area of a lot of focus in the emerging space startup industry, not least because it unlocks the true potential of most of the rest of the market. But so far, we can count on one hand the number of new, private space launch companies that have actually transported payloads to orbit. Out of a number of firms racing to be the next to actually launch, LA-based Relativity Space is a prime contender, with a unique approach that could set it apart from the crowd.

I spoke to CEO Tim Ellis about what makes his company different and about what kind of capabilities it will bring to the launch market once it starts flying, something the company aims to do beginning next year. Fresh off a $140 million funding round in October 2019, Relativity’s model could provide another seismic shift in the economics of doing business in space, and has the potential to be as disruptive to the landscape — if not more so — as SpaceX.

“We built the largest metal 3D printers in the world, which we call a ‘Stargate,’ ” Ellis said. “It’s actually replacing a whole factory full of fixed tooling — and having all of our processes being 3D printing, we really view that as being the future because that lets us automate almost the entire rocket production, and then also reduce part count for much larger launch vehicles so our rocket can carry a 1,250-kg payload to orbit.” Because Relativity Space’s launch vehicle is nearly 10 times larger than those made by Rocket Lab or Orbex, “it’s a totally different payload class.”

That difference is crucial, and represents the paradigm shift that Relativity Space could engender once its products are introduced to the commercial market. The company knows first-hand how its approach fundamentally differs from existing launch providers like Blue Origin and SpaceX — Ellis previously worked as a propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, and co-founder and CTO Jordan Noone worked on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule program. Ellis said Relativity’s approach won’t just unlock cost savings due to automation, it will also provide clients with the ability to launch payloads that weren’t possible with previous launch vehicle design constraints.

NASA reveals the payloads for the first commercial Moon cargo deliveries

By Darrell Etherington

NASA has finalized the payloads for its first cargo deliveries scheduled to be carried by commercial lunar landers, vehicles created by companies the agency selected to take part in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. In total, there are 16 payloads, which consist of a number of different science experiments and technology experiments, that will be carried by landers built by Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines. Both of these landers are scheduled to launch next year, carrying their cargo to the Moon’s surface and helping prepare the way for NASA’s mission to return humans to the Moon by 2024.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine is set to launch aboard a rocket provided by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), while Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander will make its own lunar trip aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Both landers will carry two of the payloads on the list, including a Laser Retro-Reflector Array (LRA) that is basically a mirror-based precision location device for situating the lander itself; and a Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL) – a laser-based sensor that can provide precision navigation during descent and touchdown. Both of these payloads are being developed by NASA to ensure safe, controlled and specifically targeted landing of spacecraft on the Moon’s surface, and their use here be crucial in building robust lunar landing systems to support Artemis through the return of human astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

Besides those two payloads, everything else on either lander is unique to one vehicle or the other. Astrobotic is carrying more, but its Peregrine lander can hold more cargo – its payload capacity tops out at around 585 lbs, whereas the Nova-C can carry a maximum of 220 lbs. The full list of what each lander will have on board is available below, as detailed by NASA.

Overall, NASA has 14 total contractors that could potentially provide lunar payload delivery services through its CLPS program. That basically amounts to a list of approved vendors, who then bid on whatever contracts the agency has available for this specific need. Other companies on the CLPS list include Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and more. Starting with these two landers next year, NASA hopes to fly around two missions per year each year through the CLPS program.

Astrobotic Payloads

  • Surface Exosphere Alterations by Landers (SEAL): SEAL will investigate the chemical response of lunar regolith to the thermal, physical and chemical disturbances generated during a landing, and evaluate contaminants injected into the regolith by the landing itself. It will give scientists insight into the how a spacecraft landing might affect the composition of samples collected nearby. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.
  • Photovoltaic Investigation on Lunar Surface (PILS): PILS is a technology demonstration that is based on an International Space Station test platform for validating solar cells that convert light to electricity. It will demonstrate advanced photovoltaic high-voltage use for lunar surface solar arrays useful for longer mission durations. It is being developed at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
  • Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS): The LETS radiation sensor will collect information about the lunar radiation environment and relies on flight-proven hardware that flew in space on the Orion spacecraft’s inaugural uncrewed flight in 2014. It is being developed at NASA Johnson.
  • Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS): NIRVSS will measure surface and subsurface hydration, carbon dioxide and methane – all resources that could potentially be mined from the Moon — while also mapping surface temperature and changes at the landing site. It is being developed at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
  • Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo): MSolo will identify low-molecular weight volatiles. It can be installed to either measure the lunar exosphere or the spacecraft outgassing and contamination. Data gathered from MSolo will help determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources. It is being developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) for Lunar Surface Volatiles: PITMS will characterize the lunar exosphere after descent and landing and throughout the lunar day to understand the release and movement of volatiles. It was previously developed for ESA’s (European Space Agency) Rosetta mission and is being modified for this mission by NASA Goddard and ESA.
  • Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS): NSS will search for indications of water-ice near the lunar surface by measuring how much hydrogen-bearing materials are at the landing site as well as determine the overall bulk composition of the regolith there. NSS is being developed at NASA Ames.
  • Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface (NMLS): NMLS will use a neutron spectrometer to determine the amount of neutron radiation at the Moon’s surface, and also observe and detect the presence of water or other rare elements. The data will help inform scientists’ understanding of the radiation environment on the Moon. It’s based on an instrument that currently operates on the space station and is being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG): MAG will characterize certain magnetic fields to improve understanding of energy and particle pathways at the lunar surface. NASA Goddard is the lead development center for the MAG payload.

Intuitive Machines Payloads

  • Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1): LN-1 is a CubeSat-sized experiment that will demonstrate autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations. It has flown on the space station and is being developed at NASA Marshall.
  • Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS): SCALPSS will capture video and still image data of the lander’s plume as the plume starts to impact the lunar surface until after engine shut off, which is critical for future lunar and Mars vehicle designs. It is being developed at NASA Langley, and also leverages camera technology used on the Mars 2020 rover.
  • Low-frequency Radio Observations for the Near Side Lunar Surface (ROLSES): ROLSES will use a low-frequency radio receiver system to determine photoelectron sheath density and scale height. These measurements will aide future exploration missions by demonstrating if there will be an effect on the antenna response or larger lunar radio observatories with antennas on the lunar surface. In addition, the ROLSES measurements will confirm how well a lunar surface-based radio observatory could observe and image solar radio bursts. It is being developed at NASA Goddard.

Original Content podcast: Netflix goes to the Oscars

By Anthony Ha

When this year’s Academy Award nominations were announced on Monday, Netflix received 24 nominations — the most of any Hollywood studio.

That’s thanks in large part to “The Irishman,” which received 10 nominations, and “Marriage Story,” which received six (both films were nominated for Best Picture). As a result, Darrell finally watched Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half hour gangster epic — and he wasn’t impressed by the results.

He explains why on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, in we discuss our reactions to the nominations, including the eyebrow-raising 11 nods for “Joker.” This leads to a broader discussion of why the nominations were so disappointing from a diversity perspective, and what exactly we want from awards like the Oscars anyway.

In addition, we recap the latest details about NBCUniversal’s upcoming streaming service Peacock, and Jordan offers a spoiler-y review of the second season of Netflix’s “You.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:01 Peacock discussion
14:21 Oscars discussion
53:17 “You” season 2 spoiler review

Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

By Darrell Etherington

Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview of activity in the space startup industry, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019.

I spoke to Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson about what he’s seen in terms of changes in the industry since Space Angels began publishing this quarterly update in 2017, and about what’s in store for 2020 and beyond as commercial space matures and comes into its own. Informed by data released publicly, SEC filings and investor databases — as well as anonymized and aggregated info from Space Angels’ own due diligence process and portfolio company management — Anderson is among the best-positioned people on either the investment or the operator side to weigh in on the current and future state of the space startup industry.

“2019 was a record year — record number of investments, record number of companies, a record on all these fronts,” Anderson said. “2019 in its own right was a huge year, but then you look at everything that happened over the last decade. We always refer to this last decade as ‘the entrepreneurial space age’ […] and you see everything that’s happened over the last 10 years, you see it all culminating in a record year like this one.”

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Witcher’ shows off big muscles and bigger monsters

By Anthony Ha

It’s easy to see “The Witcher” as Netflix’s answer to “Game of Thrones,” thanks to its impressive special effects and its big movie star lead (Henry Cavill, previously best known as Superman in the recent DC films) — not to mention its willingness to put blood, guts and naked female bodies on-screen.

But in other ways, “The Witcher” feels like a throwback to an earlier generation of fantasy TV, and to shows like “Xena: Warrior Princess.” While longer storylines weave their way through the eight-episode season — and those storylines tie together quite cleverly — the show also maintains an old-fashioned devotion to self-contained storytelling, with Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia battling different adversaries in each episode.

And as we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we both found this to be pretty refreshing. Once you get past its gray surface, “The Witcher” turns out to be delightfully unpretentious, reveling in its pulpiness and occasionally poking fun at its stoic hero with preposterously large muscles.

That sense of fun also made us more forgiving of touches like rushed plots and anachronistic dialogue.

And while the setting might seem, at first, to resemble a generic copy of George R. R. Martin, we were both won over by “The Witcher”’s world-building; even though neither of us could keep track of all the made-up countries going to war with each other, we were still impressed by the intricate mythology behind some of the show’s monsters.

You can listen to our spoiler-free discussion in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

The four corners of the new space economy

By Devin Coldewey

It’s gotten to the point now where a handful of angel investors can put a space company on the map. But the same changes that have made the industry accessible have made it increasingly complex to track its trends. By default, all space startups are exciting, but companies vary widely in risk, capital intensity and maturity. Here’s what you need to know about the four main areas of the new space economy.

Launch: playground of billionaires and forward thinkers

Perhaps simply the most exciting industry to be a part of today, orbital launch service has gone from a government-funded niche dominated by a handful of primes to a vibrant, growing community serving insatiable demand.

There’s a good reason why it was dominated for so long by the likes of ULA, whose Delta rockets took up a huge majority of missions for decades. The barrier to entry for launch is huge.

As such there are three ways to enter the sector: brute force, stealth, and novelty.

Brute force is how SpaceX and Blue Origin have managed to accomplish what they have. With billions in investment from people who don’t actually care whether money is made in the short term (or with Bezos, even in the long term), they can perform the research and engineering necessary to make a full-scale launch platform. Few of these can ever really exist, and participation is limited when they do. Fortunately we all reap the benefits when billionaires compete for space superiority.

Stealth, perhaps better described as smart positioning, is where you’ll find Rocket Lab. This New Zealand-based company didn’t appear out of nowhere — look at its timeline and you’ll see scaled-down tests being conducted more than a decade ago. But what founder Peter Beck and his crew did was anticipate the market and work doggedly towards a specific solution.

Rocket Lab is focused on small payloads, delivered with short turnaround time. This avoids the trouble of competing against billionaires and decades-old space dynasties because, really, this market didn’t exist until very recently.

“Responsive space, or launch on demand, is going to be increasingly important,” Beck said. “All satellites are vulnerable, be it from natural, accidental, or deliberate actions. As we see the growth and aging of small sat constellations, the need for replenishment will increase, leading to demand for single spacecraft to unique orbits. The ability to deploy new satellites to precise orbits in a matter of hours, not months or years, is critical to government and commercial satellite operators alike.”

Rocket Lab’s tenth launch, nicknamed “Running Out of Fingers.”

Investing in Rocket Lab early on would have seemed unexciting as for year after year they made measured progress but took on no cargo and made no money. Patience is the primary virtue here. But investors with foresight are looking back now on the company’s many successful launches and bright future and marveling that they ever doubted it.

The third category of launch is novelty: entirely new launch techniques like SpinLaunch or Leo Aerospace. The term may not inspire confidence, and that’s deliberate. Companies taking this approach are high-risk, high-reward propositions that often need serious funding before they can even prove the basic physical possibility of their launch technique. That’s not an investment everyone is comfortable making.

On the other hand, these are companies that, should they prove viable, may upend and collect a significant portion of the new and growing launch market. Here patience is not so much required as extra diligence and outside expertise to help separate the wheat from the chaff. Something like SpinLaunch may sound outlandish at first, but the Saturn V rocket still seems outlandish now, decades after it was built. Leaving the confines of established methods is how we move forward — but investors should be careful they don’t end up just blasting their cash into orbit.

Blue Origin moves closer to human spaceflight with 12th New Shepard launch

By Darrell Etherington

Jeff Bezos -founded Blue Origin has recorded another successful mission for its New Shepard sub-orbital launch vehicle, which is a key step as it readies the spacecraft for human spaceflight. This is also the six flight of this re-used booster, which is a record for Blue Origin in terms of relying and recovering one of its rocket stages.

This is the ninth time that Blue Origin has flown commercial payloads aboard New Shepard, and each launch moves it one step closer to demonstrating the system’s readiness for carrying crew on board. This launch carried experimental payloads on board that will be used for research, including materials used in student studies. It also had thousands of postcards on board written by students from around the world, which were submitted to the Club for the Future non-profit set up by Blue Origin earlier this year to provide educational resources about space to schools and students.

Blue Origin intends to fly paying space tourists aboard New Shepard eventually, along with other commercial astronauts making the trip for research and other missions. Up to six passengers can fit in Blue Origin’s capsule atop the New Shepard, but we don’t yet know when it’ll actually be carrying anyone on board, either for testing or for commercial flights.

Watch live as Blue Origin aims for a booster re-use record with rocket launch

By Darrell Etherington

Blue Origin will be looking to launch one of its New Shepard sub-orbital spacecraft today – a second attempt after weather didn’t cooperate yesterday. Conditions are looking much better at the company’s West Texas launch site, so the Jeff Bezos-founded space venture is much more optimistic that today’s launch will go off as planned.

This mission, codenamed NS-12 because it’s the 12th flight of the New Shepard vehicle, will be the sixth re-use of the NS3 booster stage which provides the spacecraft’s initial thrust to get it off the ground. That will be a record for commercial reusable spaceflight, and it’s a key mission parameter, though the primary focus is still on delivering payloads for customers.

Those payloads include a range of different science experiments, as well as postcards submitted by kids around the world via the Blue Origin ‘Club for the Future’ non-profit. Bezos announced this new organization at the big Blue Origin lunar lander unveiling in May, and it’s designed to provide educational materials around space exploration to schools, and the postcards project is its first big endeavor.

Currently, Blue Origin is waiting to update their specific launch time due to heavy fog in the vicinity of its launch pad, but we’ll update this post with the exact time once it’s available.

Blue Origin aims for a booster re-use record with New Shepard launch

By Darrell Etherington

[Update 2: Due to weather conditions not improving, Blue Origin scrubbed today’s launch and will attempt again tomorrow morning at a time to be determined later.]

[Update: Due to weather conditions, Blue Origin is now targeting 10:30 AM CST (11:30 AM EST/8:30 AM PST) for liftoff.]

Jeff Bezos -founded space company Blue Origin has a launch scheduled for today, with a liftoff window set for 8:30 AM CST (9:30 AM EST/6:30 AM PST) 10:30 AM CST (11:30 AM EST/8:30 AM PST). The launch livestream above will begin at around 30 minutes prior to liftoff.

The launch today will see a New Shepard rocket take off from the company’s West Texas launch facility. There’s a chance that weather won’t cooperate, and the team is monitoring conditions and will provide an update if they have to put off the launch to a. later date.

This launch is notable for a few different reasons, including that it includes a booster that has launched previously five times – making this a record sixth flight for one of the company’s re-usable booster stages. New Shepard is a suborbital launch vehicle, and will seek to deliver cargo including a number of scientific experiments as well as thousands of postcards from children who have submitted them through Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future organization, which aims to get kids in involved in space science and exploration.

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