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SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 fails during testing, next step will be to move to a newer design

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 prototype encountered an explosive failure during early testing in Texas on Wednesday – you can see exactly what happened in the video below, but basically it blew its lid during cryogenic testing – a standard test that you use to see if the vehicle can hold up to extreme cold temperatures, like those it would encounter in actual use. The good news is that this is exactly why SpaceX (and anyone building rockets) does this kind of early-stage testing on the ground, in controlled, relatively safe conditions. The bad news is that this might delay the company’s optimistic timelines.

RIP Starship Mk1. @LabPadre stream:

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) November 20, 2019

As for next steps, the plan appears to be to take what Starship Mk1 has taught SpaceX so far and proceed with the next iteration of the prototype spacecraft – Starship Mk3. ‘Wait, didn’t we skip a Mk?’ you might ask – no, because SpaceX is already building Mk2 in parallel with this now-destroyed Mk1 at its other facility in Florida.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was quick to answer a question on Twitter from YouTuber Everyday Astronaut regarding the next steps for Starship testing, saying it’ll move on to Mk3 design, and that Mk1’s value was primarily “as a manufacturing pathfinder,” noting that “flight design is quite different.”

This is still a different version of events and Starship development from what’s been discussed previously: Starship Mk1 and Mk2 were originally characterized as high-altitude test flight vehicles, to follow the success of the ‘Starhopper’ snub-nosed subscale demonstrator, which was used to test a single Raptor engine for a couple of low-altitude hops at SpaceX’s Texas site.

Timelines are always fluid in the space business, however, and in particular in the launch industry. SpaceX also sets incredibly optimistic timelines for most of its ambitious goals, by the open admission of both Musk and SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell. Still, the company has said it’ll look to achieve orbital flight with a Starship prototype vehicle as early as next year, so we’ll have to wait and see whether this inopportune test result affects that schedule.

SpaceX provided the following statement regarding today’s test:

The purpose of today’s test was to pressurize systems to the max, so the outcome was not completely unexpected. There were no injuries, nor is this a serious setback.

As Elon tweeted, Mk1 served as a valuable manufacturing pathfinder but flight design is quite different. The decision had already been made to not fly this test article and the team is focused on the Mk3 builds, which are designed for orbit.

Audi’s next all-electric vehicle, the e-tron Sportback, is a “coupé” SUV

By Kirsten Korosec

Audi revealed Tuesday evening in Los Angeles the e-tron Sportback as the German automaker begins to chip away at its plan to launch more than 30 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2025.

The e-tron Sportback reveal ahead of the LA Auto Show follows the launch earlier this year of Audi’s first all-electric vehicle, the 2019 e-tron.

Audi has delivered 18,500 of its all-electric e-tron SUVs globally since March 2019 when the vehicle first came to market. And the company is hoping to grab more, and different, customers with the Sportback.

Audi plans to offer two variants of the vehicle, a Sportback 50 and Sportback 55. The Sportback will come to Europe first in spring 2020. The Sportback 55 will come to the U.S. in fall 2020.

Audi calls this e-tron Sportback a SUV coupé, the latest evidence that automakers are comfortable pushing the boundaries of traditional automotive terminology. This is not a two-door car with a fixed roof and a sloping rear, although there are “coupé” elements in the design.

This is in fact a SUV with a roof that extend flat over the body and then drops steeply to the rear — that’s where the coupé name comes in — and into the D pillar of the vehicle. Then there’s the classic “Sportback” feature in the body where the lower edge of the side window rises toward the rear.

There are design details repeated throughout the exterior, specifically the four-bar pattern in the headlamps, front grille and wheels. And of course there are special interior and exterior finishes – 13 paint colors in all — and a first edition version customers can buy. The base price of the Sportback is 71,350 ($79,000).

But importantly, besides some styling and design changes, this vehicle boasts longer range and for everyone outside the U.S., futuristic looking side mirrors and new lighting tech.

The 2020 Audi e-tron Sportback has a 86.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of up to 446 kilometers (277.1 miles) in the EU’s WLTP cycle. The EPA estimates aren’t out yet, but expect the range numbers to be slightly lower.

The company is targeting an EPA range of about 220 miles over the 204 miles of range that the regular e-tron gets.

Audi was able to improve the range by increasing the net battery capacity. It also decoupled the front motor and improved the thermal management.

Lighting and mirrors

Audi is known for its lighting and the company has made this a key feature in the Sportback. The vehicle has a new digital matrix headlights that breaks down light into tiny pixels. The result is precise lighting that has high resolution.

Inside the headlight is a digital micromirror device that acts like a video projector. Inside the DMD is a small chip from Texas Instruments that contains one million micromirrors. These micromirrors can be tilted up to 5,000 times per second.

The upshot: The headlights can project specific patterns on the road or illuminate certain areas more brightly. And for fun, animations like the e-tron or Audi logos can be projected on a wall when the vehicle is stopped.

Check out this video to see it in action.

The safety piece of this is the most interesting. For instance, on a freeway the light might creates a carpet of light that illuminates the driver’s own lane brightly and adjusts dynamically when he or she changes lane.

Then there are the virtual exterior mirrors. This wing-shaped side mirror doesn’t have an exterior mirror. Instead, it supports integrate small cameras. The captured images appear on high-contrast OLED displays inside the car between the instrument panel and the door.

If the driver moves their finger toward the surface of the touch display, symbols are activated with which the driver can reposition the image. The mirrors can be adjust automatically to three driving situations for highway driving, turning and parking.

Neither the mirrors of the digital matrix LED lighting is available in the U.S. and won’t be until the government changes its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, or FMVSS, which are the regulations that dictate the design, construction, performance, and durability requirements for motor vehicles.

SpaceX’s orbital Starship prototype comes together ahead of update event

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has completed joining the bottom and top halves of the Starship orbital-scale prototype it’s building in Boca Chica, Texas. The gleaming silver spacecraft, which is the “Mk 1” prototype that SpaceX will use for high-altitude testing, using three of the Raptor engines that will ultimately power the production version, saw its bottom and top halves mated on Friday ahead of an update that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will deliver on Saturday about the Starship program’s progress to date and next steps.

The prototype sports a slightly different design than we’ve seen in concept renders for the spacecraft, with two bottom fins and two fins near the top of the nose of the ship. These are designed to be used to help maneuver the vehicle during flight, especially during its controlled descent as it returns to Earth after missions, as Starship is intended to be a fully re-useable space vehicle. That reusability, along with the reusability of the Super Heavy booster being developed to propel it and its cargo to space, are key to SpaceX’s goals of eventually making humans truly multi planetary, and achieving some of the company’s more ambitious near-term goals, like achieving a permanent human presence on Mars.

Three Raptors on a Starship

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 26, 2019

Musk also shared photos of the three Raptor engines that will be installed on the Starship Mk1 prototype. Starship’s first prototype to fly was a subscale demonstration and testing vehicle codenamed “Starhopper,” which had only one Raptor engine and topped out at around 500 feet, as intended. The Mk1 will aim to reach as high as 63,000 feet in its own testing, which Musk has previously said should take place this year.

We’ll find out more about what’s next for the Starship program tomorrow, so check back right here on TechCrunch for updates live from Texas.

SpaceX to share Starship progress update Saturday as it continues prototype construction

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was in Boca Chica, Texas over the weekend to oversee key construction activities in the assembly of the company’s newest Starship prototype. Musk will deliver an update on Starship, which will likely recap progress to date and provide a more detailed roadmap of SpaceX’s plans for the future of its next-generation spaceship and launch system.

Musk shared photos of the prototype construction in progress, with the so-called “Mk1” prototype getting its rear moving fins, which are located on the bottom half of the rocket and which work together with fins located on the yet-to-be-installed top half of the spacecraft to control its stability during entry and landing.

[gallery ids="1885055,1885056,1885057,1885058"]

The Starship Mk1 prototype will be the first to represent the final vehicle in its orbital-class configuration, after a ‘Starhopper’ prototype SpaceX produced initially accomplished the goal of testing one of the new Raptor engines and demonstrating low-altitude flight, control and landing capabilities. That stubbier version of Starship is retired after doing both a short and a longer ‘hop’ test flight over the past two months, and now SpaceX will look to test higher altitude and longer duration flights, using multiple Raptor engines, with the Starship Mk1 and Mk2 prototypes currently under development at Boca Chica, and in another SpaceX facility in Florida.

Musk has said that Starship Mk1 already has three Raptor engines installed on the vehicle, and the company has filed documents with the FCC required for it to receive permission for the communications components of its first test launches. We should find out more concrete details as of Saturday, and TechCrunch will have all the info here as it happens.


The direct to consumer department store Neighborhood Goods has raised $11 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Neighborhood Goods, the direct to consumer department store hawking brands like Rothy’s, Dollar Shave Club, Buck Mason, Draper James and Stadium Goods, has new cash to expand its storefront for e-commerce juggernauts.

The company has raised $11 million in a new round of financing led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from previous investors Forerunner Ventures, Serena Ventures, NextGen Venture Partners, Allen Exploration, Capital Factory and others.

The Dallas-based startup has raised $25.5 million to date and is expanding into a new location in Austin to complement its stores in Plano, Texas and a location in New York, opening soon, according to the company’s chief executive and co-founder Matt Alexander.

The Neighborhood Goods concept, providing a brick and mortar outlet for online brands, is one that dovetails nicely with backers like Global Founders Capital and Forerunner Ventures, which are both longtime investors in direct to consumer startups.

“As we expand our network of brands, we’re so thrilled to have Neighborhood Goods as a core element of our portfolio for them to test, assess, explore and learn about the impact of physical retail as they grow,” said Global Founders Capital investor Don Stalter.

As the company expands its geographic footprint, it’s also experimenting with different online features, like online browsing of in-store collections and the option for physical, in-store pickup of digital orders. Neighborhood Goods also said it will begin offering an analytics back-end for brand partners to provide data on activations and branded events at the company’s stores.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia are pushing an antitrust investigation against Google

By Jonathan Shieber

Fifty attorneys general are pushing forward with an antitrust investigation against Google, led by the Texas state attorney general, Ken Paxton.

In an announcement on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building, Paxton and a gathering of attorneys general said that the focus of the investigation would be on Google’s advertising practices, but that other points of inquiry could be included in the investigation.

The investigation into Google comes as big technology companies find themselves increasingly under the regulatory microscope for everything from anticompetitive business practices to violations of users’ privacy and security to accusations of political bias.

Last week, the New York state attorney general launched an investigation into Facebook.

“Google’s control over nearly every aspect of our lives has placed the company at the center of our digital economy. But it doesn’t take a search engine to understand that unchecked corporate power shouldn’t eclipse consumers’ rights,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, in a statement. “That is why New York has joined this bipartisan investigation of Google to determine whether the company has achieved or maintained its dominance through anticompetitive conduct. As with the Facebook investigation we are leading, we will use every investigative tool at our disposal in the Google investigation to ensure the truth is exposed.”

Action from the states follows movement from the federal government, which is investigating just about every major technology company, including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.

For those trying to keep score on antitrust:

The FTC is investigating Facebook.

The Department of Justice is investigating Apple, Google and Amazon.

The DoJ is also investigating ALL of Big Tech.

State attorneys general set to announce inquiry expected to focus on Google

— Jeremy C. Owens (@jowens510) September 9, 2019