Virgin Orbit looking to expand its services into adjacent markets

Virgin Orbit, a subsidiary of Richard Branson and Nik Powell’s Virgin Group of companies, is looking to expand its services to adjacent markets, such as backing small startups developing satellite systems.

The company’s president and CEO, Dan Hart, gave a detailed presentation during this year’s SmallSat Symposium outlining what Virgin Orbit has been developing. After a successful Launch Demo 2 mission back in January, many potential partners have contacted the British company to inquire about investment opportunities.

Launch Demo 2 placed ten CubeSats in orbit, a project that was funded by the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “It went better than anybody could have ever dreamed. Every part of the system came together,” said Hart. “We have a pretty expansive evolution of the company planned. We are evaluating right now, with success, lots of possibilities and, frankly, we’re getting lots of queries,” said Hart.

In 2020, Virgin Orbit came to the rescue of an Australian startup stuck in the development stage due to bankruptcy. The company, Sky and Space Global, develops communication satellites. Virgin Orbit acquired a part of the company, and in return, it would offer launch services and consultations.

“Launch is a cornerstone of space access and the whole space ecosystem. Virgin Orbit is looking to flex into adjacencies like the Sky and Space Global or the SAS deal. There is a plethora of space adjacencies in other aspects of national security or commercial turnkey systems like SAS is going after,” added Hart. Richard Branson echoed Hart’s sentiments. “There will be a lot of people who do approach the company with wonderful ideas to put satellites into space but just can’t afford it,” he said.

Virgin Orbit will help startup smallsat companies to get their projects off the ground. They might acquire some shares in these companies while assisting them to launch their satellites into orbit. “That’s the kind of entrepreneurial thing Virgin Orbit should be doing,” added Branson. Virgin is not another regular Cubesat company. What sets it apart from the rest is its capacity to launch space vehicles from the airport at any inclination. “We want to be able to launch from any part of the world. That includes a launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay, in England in 2022,” noted Branson. The company’s LauncherOne has attracted clients such as the US Air Force to solve their military problems.

“What makes this particularly unique is our capability for the US Air Force, British Air Force, Canadian Air Force, or the French Air Force, all of whom have been encouraging and working with us over the last two or three years,” said Branson. Virgin Orbit ‘could give its clients a powerful deterrent capability in case they were to lose their satellites anywhere globally. The company could ‘replace them incredibly quickly,’ argued Branson. The next launch will occur in a few months and carry payloads for the Dutch air force, United States Air Force and SatRevolution, a satellite manufacturer based in Poland.


GM’s Profits from fuel-engine trucks and SUVs to fuel the Electric quest

The GM is one of the biggest car makers of all time. Sources have it that the company earned over $6 billion in 2020, which will be put in their electrifying move. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which left automakers crippled, GM was still able to record high purchases. The profit totals were higher than some account readings in other years despite the tough times.

The automaker recently went public with an ambitious plan to electrify most of their vehicles in fifteen years. Many people have reacted to this pledge and are looking forward to what the company has up its sleeve. From the company’s recent announcement, it is no secret that they will need every penny to stick to this plan.

GM has set a target for a short-term plan to launch thirty new electric vehicles in the next four years. If everything goes as planned, GM hopes to make at least a million sales each year in the USA. In addition to that, the management team hopes to make at least a million sales in China by 2025. This time is crucial since, despite the rising demand for electric cars, their percentage on the road is 4%. Experts have concluded that the move to electric vehicles will happen. However, details on the time it will take are still data that we are missing.

The budget is also tricky and challenging despite how necessary it is to record positive results. GM has a budget of $27 billion to use on electric cars by 2025. As of this year, the price tag is $7 billion. For a successful calculation of such a considerable amount, the company plans to squeeze a lot of profit from sports cars, trucks, and pickups. In conclusion, the gas engine cars present today will finance the future of GM electric cars.

The chief executive of GM, Mary Barra, spoke of its potential in the auto motors business. And the importance of investing in the industry during this critical time. Last year, the company’s profit ran up to $6.4 billion following the crisis brought about by the pandemic almost half of the year.

GM’s first electric vehicles will be launched in the market next week. Experts claim that the future of GM on this path is bright. However, the adoption process of electric vehicles is only beginning. And this fact can lead to the stagnancy of the company for a while. Also, there is a new problem regarding computer chips.

But, GM was quick to respond that the company’s issue of the chip causes problems for the manufacturing process. Also, Ms. Barra confirmed that the country was working hard to get all the necessary chips. Mary expressed her excitement to work with the government to achieve the net zero-emission project.


A Pioneering NASA Mini weather Satellite completes its mission

CubeSat has become a trending topic in the latest market trends. This detail follows after a pioneering NASA mini weather satellite completed its mission. RainCube’s design specifies the study of storms in space. It has a unique mark in history since it is the first science instrument to lift off on a CubeSat.

The satellite communicated with its Earth’s management team for the last time on 2020, December 24th, after almost two years in the Earth’s orbit. After the communication, the shoebox-size satellite plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere before burning up. RainCube, in other words, Radar in a CubeSat, was a technology designed to prove that minimizing the size of a weather satellite into a low-cost and small satellite would deliver a high-quality result. Its launch and work demonstrated that CubeSat is legit, and their work is equally good to that of a giant satellite.

RainCube lifts off to the Earth’s orbit in 2018, July 13th, from the International Space Station. From the project plan, the primary mission had a time limit of three months. How did the CubeSat instrument work? The weather satellite saw rain and different precipitation by sending radar signals off snowflakes, ice, and raindrops. Later, it would work out the time taken for a signal to bounce back and its strength on arrival. The scientist on the ground was able to monitor storms globally.

Since it has been in space for almost two and a half years, it has taken up all the storm measurements. RainCube’s principal scientist from NASA Jet Propulsion talked about the significant role behind the launch. He spoke of the weather satellite as an eye-opener to various scientists that a small satellite can do the trick instead of a complete satellite that is ten times bigger. Besides, the two satellites resulted in the same results.

After the initial three months target, the satellite remained in space under its recent destruction. In 2020, it worked alongside another CubeSat, TEMPEST-D, to study storms. The two satellites worked adequately. And although the instruments the CubeSats used were various, the methods were complementary. With that, the monitoring team was able to make better reports on the storms happening globally.

In a statement from RainCube Project manager Shannon Statham, the second phase was a discovery. The team learned that you could use two CubeSats to get better results when studying more about the planet.

In general, a CubeSat is a small instrument with a big mission. The current weather satellites can only view activities in space for a while before recovering. However, with the grand discovery, experts can use multiple CubeSats to work on the same mission. With that, studying the planet is easier and more convenient. Besides, it’s almost impossible to miss something when monitoring is 24-hours.


Electric car sales shoot despite the late release by manufacturers due to Covid -19

Europe saw a surge in electric and hybrid car sales towards the end of 2020. Car manufacturers had been preparing to change their manufacturing dynamics from ICE (internal combustion engine) cars to hybrid and electric cars, following the governments’ directive to cut the production of carbon-emitting vehicles.

However, the expansion of the EV and hybrid sales was abruptly cut short by the emergence of the global, deadly coronavirus. Car assembly was halted as governments ordered total lockdowns across the globe. This led to delayed production of new cars and distribution of ready ones.

When Covid-19 cases were controlled, governments opened up economies. Manufacturers were in a rush to release their car models, and consumers dashed to procure their favorite emission-free models. The result was a spike in hybrid and EV car sales towards the end of 2020. According to research conducted by Bernstein, 300,000 of 730,000 battery EVs ordered before Covid-19 struck were delivered in the last three months of 2020.

Some carmakers met their yearly target despite the late release. For instance, Daimler hit its target sales through a collective effort to drive its sales right as the year ended. Others like Volkswagen missed their target, but only with a small gap. Jaguar Land Rover faced a couple of problems in 2020. Firstly, when Covid-19 struck, the company’s supply of raw materials was cut short. Towards the end of the year, the carmaker announced it was halting production in Castle Bromwich. Jaguar managed to sell its Jaguar I-Pace EV, which accounted for 69 percent of the company’s car sales in Western Europe for December.

Government rebates for EVs contributed to the late success. For example, in Germany, the government has tripled the subsidies offered when consumers purchase EVs. An electric car buyer will pocket €9000 in a discount when they buy a new car.

According to figures released by Germany’s car market leader, AutoScout24, searches for EVs rose by 80 percent in the second half of 2020. Data also showed that for all the cars sold in 2020, 13.5 percent were electric.

“Incentivisation obviously has played a very important role in 2020 to really push electrification over a kind of tipping point,” said Pieter Nota, sales chief at BMW.

Government rebates alone cannot sustain the high sales. Countries have to expand their charging infrastructure to ensure car users have a reliable supply of power. “The next few months will show whether demand can continue at this high level. The decisive factor here will not be the cost subsidies alone, but also the expansion of the charging infrastructure,” said Jochen Kurz, a director at AutoScout24.

Governments scheduled bans on conventional cars has also driven the high EV sale. After the UK announced its plan to ban petrol car sales by 2030, the search for EVs on online car sales doubled, revealed Autotrader. In 2020, 16 percent of all car sales were either electric or hybrid.

Hyundai sold the highest number of EVs in Europe last year. The company sold 13 percent of the total EVs sold across Europe, courtesy of its well-known EV, Kona model.

 According to Matthias Schmidt of Schmidt Automotive Research, the crown for the most registered electric car model went to Renault’s Zoe model. The French carmaker’s model surpassed Tesla’s Model 3 and Volkswagen’s ID.3, accounting for 95 percent of the total EV sales in Western Europe. Tesla sales across Europe fell by 16 percent. Pandemic lockdown interrupted the distribution of cars from assembly factories to consumers across Europe.

BMW intends to double its electric car sales this year. “We aim to increase the sales of our electrified vehicles by more than half in 2021, and that underlines the importance of electromobility as a major growth driver in the company,” said Nota.

Hybrids use both the combustion engine and battery to power their propulsion. Critics have disregarded hybrid vehicles claiming they solely rely on the ICE and only a small distance is powered by electric power. “I would expect that hybrids will go down rapidly when fiscal stimulus is reduced. When the subsidies end for hybrids, no one buys them because it’s not the real thing,” said Markus Duesmann, Audi CEO.


Autoworkers are not sure how things will be in the era of electric vehicles

After General Motors announced that by 2035 it would only specialize in producing electric vehicles only, this clouded the future of 500000 employees whose jobs could come to an end. GM wants a workforce that will help it develop zero-emissions vehicles. Although this won’t happen so quickly, it means that workers who were manufacturing internal combustion vehicles for many years will now perform different tasks or else lose their jobs.

While making internal combustion vehicles, there are skilled workers who specialize in making muffles, fuel injectors, and pistons.  Now, all these jobs will be replaced by lithium-ion battery pack assembly and heavy-duty wiring harness. The majority of these components are imported. The good news President Joe Biden is committed, and one of the ambitious primary plans is the US electric vehicle supply chain that could lead to the creation of over one million jobs in the auto industry.

However, the future of GM workers plus other carmakers could be at risk. The upcoming plants will require fewer workers since electric vehicles have fewer moving parts compared to internal combustion vehicles. There is the likelihood that automakers will start buying the EV components from supply companies or partner with others to create joint ventures to make the parts. More than 100000 people in the United States will be directly affected. These are people who work in plants that produce engines and transmissions for internal combustion and gas vehicles. 

One of the plants that are facing this challenge is the Toledo Transmission Plant in Ohio. One of the employees who work there, known as Stuart Hill, says that he is worried that the plant will be shut down. He is not sure what will happen after the plant closure. Hill is among the 1500 workers who work at the plant and one of the GM employees. He said that if the plant is shut down, he will have no alternative than looking for work at other plants.

Two years ago, Volkswagen and Ford executives said that EVs would decrease labor hours by 30% per vehicle. This means that autoworkers are not guaranteed that they will secure jobs in the new era of EV.  It is expected that many industry jobs will be lost in the EV transition. However, some argue that there will be many other jobs that the greener economy will create.  These include building EV parts, solar and wind power production projects, and installation of charging stations.


A Documentation of the natural disaster resulting from the Uttarakhand Avalanche from New Satellite Images

One would obviously wonder how a disaster that saw 30 people die and left more than 170 missing may have come about. Thanks to a satellite, there are high-resolution images that tell the whole story. They clearly show how it was before the glacier burst and even more interesting events before the actual ordeal. Therefore, one can tell the strength of this particular avalanche clearly. Going by a picture taken on Feb 6, there is a clear ridgeline. It is covered with snow and ice, which is a part of the Trishala glacier. Interestingly, a huge portion of the ice was no more after the avalanche in reference to a photo taken on Feb 8.

Another affected area, besides where the avalanche occurred, is several kilometers from the spot of focus. Just like the other area, it was also covered by snow before the avalanche. However, that changed on the D-day, and again, a huge chunk of snow and ice also went missing. Another area that registered change was the river not far from the Tapovan hydel plant since it was washed away following the avalanche. Before the incident, on Feb 6, it was a stream quite narrow with green water flowing downstream. However, that was different on Feb 8 since it was broader than the day before and instead of green water flows brown mud. The bottom line is that the whole area fell victim to destruction following the avalanche.

Additionally, the Tapovan hydel plant that existed on Feb 6 is no more. That’s all because the avalanche happened the following day when the landslide’s path and dust were hard to go unnoticed. The day after the disaster, Feb 8, dust was no more, but the field of debris left behind was evident.

From experts, there are high chances that it was ice and a block of rock initially. Upon hitting the valley floor but not before rolling for about two kilometers, the end product was an ice avalanche and a huge rock. They rolled down the glacier at a relatively high speed. In the process, a lot of dust was seen and is evident on the valley side as per the satellite images. Then, the unfortunate Uttarakhand disaster happened. It is important to note that the landslide turned out to be a flow of debris, eventually. According to experts, there are high chances the ice was crushed and melted due to the huge amount of heat that the avalanche generated. As a result, the heat triggered fragmentation, and the ice also melted.


Is the insurance industry getting tougher for green energy?

With news continuously loaded with horrific stories about the worsening environmental crisis, it may seem evident to us just how critical the presence and benefits of using green energy are. Renewable electricity is cost-effective. Renewable energy costs less to sustain than the burning of fossil fuels. While it can sound costly to set up a wind turbine, onshore wind turbines, and solar power, the sources are easier to produce energy than gas and power plants. Renewables are sustainable; they can never run out. While coal and oil will run out in 40-60 years, the sun will always rise, the wind will still whistle, and the Universe will always have hydroelectric power.

Enterprises around the globe are still looking for fresh and creative ways of being more environmentally aware. Going green may help fund a business in various ways; when a smart company wants to confirm to the stakeholders and customers that they care about the critical issues, the firm must use renewable energies instead of traditional fossil fuel. Using renewables will be appreciated since it is environmentally friendly, giving the company an excellent public relations boost. A business will enjoy their investment rewards for some time by using green energies such as solar. While the initial expense will be large, in the future, the firm will surely see savings depending on the economic scale, and this move will amount to thousands of pounds annually.

However, the business sector engaging in renewables is facing a hardening insurance market with High rates, a reluctance to cover emerging technologies, and rising prudence in coping with potentially high risks. According to Willis Towers, modern untested technologies can also be reticent because insurers do not have past loss records, making it impossible for risk evaluation to be reliable. Also, Seto explained that there are challenges that concern the technical development and utilization of technology and are yet to be proved. Seto also noted that losses could cost from $0.7k to $1 million to a single wind turbine rotor.

Therefore, a single failure would wash out an entire premium insurer’s pool for a single project. However, Seto claims that insurers are not quick to withdraw out of the market, although they will be putting growing constraints on the form of cover they can have. Nevertheless, there are strategies that insurers can use to minimize their risks, but there is just so much that they can raise and charge the customer. It is much of a juggling act.


Electric Cars could soon start undermining what they have been trying to solve

One of the challenges that the transition to clean energy vehicles faces is that traditional cars are the cheaper alternative. That’s why Tesla decided to eliminate the use of cobalt in its electric vehicle batteries. Consequently, the company will be in a position to sell their cars at a price of $25,000 in the next three years. With such a price, electric vehicles will stand a chance in the car market when the customers factor in the price issue.

However, the move would end up doing more harm than good. It would see the transition from conventional cars to electric vehicles become hard in the end. That’s because there will be little in terms of financial incentives for recycling batteries if there is no use of cobalt. As a result, they won’t be disposed of well, leading to another pollution situation. It would be an irony given the fact that the purpose of the transition is to reduce pollution.

With such an inadequate disposal mechanism, where does the rising use of electric vehicles leave the world? It is fair to say that it would lead to zero greenhouse gas emissions, which could combat climate change. The move would also reduce health issues associated with vehicle emissions. That’s probably why there are many policies by various countries in support of electric vehicles. By 2040 if not earlier, most countries, especially those in Europe, will have phased out diesel and gas cars. The target for California is even sooner since its deadline in 2035. General Motors, Volkswagen, Daimler, and the likes don’t intend to produce gas and diesel vehicles any more either. So, soon electric cars will be all over.

Nevertheless, electric vehicles also have their vice. Each electric car uses lithium-ion batteries, and they are usually relatively heavy. For instance, the Mercedes-Benz EQC one has a weight of 1400 pounds. Their components include nickel, cobalt, and manganese, and they come from mines and smelting companies. Equally important, they have harmful things that can pollute water and soil if the disposal isn’t right.

One would wonder why not recycle then instead of disposal. It is impossible to recycle them for something good since only half of the opponents can be extracted for reuse. Therefore, the other half will need to be disposed of. Without cobalt, financial incentives that go towards recycling and disposal will reduce. Consequently, the already bad situation will become worse with time, especially since the number will keep increasing, and as time goes by, waste will also go up.


Sending of Haggis to the Space Edge by a Scottish Butcher

Last Friday, there was a video revealed by the Scottish butcher company. The footage showed a bag of Haggis, which is traditional Scottish food, having a ride to the space edge using a weather balloon. The purpose for this was to boost science and celebrating Scotland’s annual “Burns Night.”  The video was released by butcher Howie Simon and presented the weather balloon launched in Dunning, the company’s headquarters, located 16km Perth southwest. The balloon was seen going up 32.1km into the sky with the haggis bag front and center in a clear sky.

After going up in the sky, the Haggis then landed back on Earth safely using a parachute that was deployed hundreds of meters from the ground. The company wrote on its website that this was planned to boost science and make the general public happy after having a challenging year. Scottish Butcher collaborated with Stratonauts, which is a company specializing in launching educational and promotional projects.

Howie said that after the Covid-19 restrictions are over, the two companies will hold workshops in Scottish primary schools. The workshop’s main objective would be to inspire students and motivate them to study science and technology.

2020 was a year like no other. The pandemic led to the closure of many businesses, and life was never the same again. People were restricted to travel as lockdowns we put in place. Students stayed at home as schools were closed. Some of the companies and learning institutions allowed workers to work from home, and students adopted online learning.

Increasing women’s spending in Scotland crisis program

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said that coronavirus-mandated isolation could expose women at a higher risk of been sexually harassed. For this reason, Nicola announced a $1.8 million appropriation for women’s support against rape and other domestic crisis. On Tuesday, when she was addressing the reporters in the capital, Edinburgh, Nicola said that funds would help cater to support services for women and children who are vulnerable and isolated during this period of crisis.

Nicola noted that it is unfortunate to see women and children suffering during this difficult time, saying this is not good at all. She also warned those who engage in raping women that their days are numbered, and they will face the full force of the law. Nicola promised that the government would provide any kind of support during this challenging time of the Covid-19 pandemic.


These firms would like you to charge your electric vehicle when shopping

It isn’t just Walmart that is adding chargers for electric cars. Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary, revealed Monday that it is installing electric vehicle chargers at over 100 sites, such as retail giant Target, Brixmor-shopping center developer as well as Sheetz- a fueling outlet. The news follows on the heels of last week’s announcement, which said that Walmart would double the E.V. chargers operating with the Electrify America at its outlets. The new real estate deals from Electrify America, announced this week as well as last week, will offer over 200 charging facilities for electric cars across the United States. 

(Each station will have several charging ports with different capacities.) As part of the very first period of installations, the firm intends to allocate $500 million equipping 484 charging sites (such as the infrastructure for the 2,000 DC fast chargers). The recent collaborations show how, as the cost of electric cars decreases, electric vehicles begin to become more popular and affordable as the availability of electric car batteries expands and as corporations invest in charging facilities to help recharge these vehicles in more ways.

Electrify America, which was formed as part of the settlement after the Volkswagen Company was found cheating on its diesel vehicle pollution standards, aims to invest $2 billion across the U.S. on developing electric vehicle charging facilities. “We have seen such an increase in interested parties in electric car chargers,” Brendan Jones, chief operating officer of Electrify America, informed GreenBiz. “I began adding fast D.C. chargers in the year 2011, as well as the hand-raisers which we see currently are unique than they were 5 or 6 years ago.”

There can be a range of advantages from the standpoint of the retail stores, the real estate companies as well as the fueling sites which add chargers. As the demand has accelerated, the enthusiasm of the businesses participating has been changing. For example, introducing chargers to the retail store in the initial periods of electric vehicles was all about achieving environmental targets, Jones observed. But more recently, corporations are finding that it has been “a chance to attract in different forms of drivers to the areas,” he added. In addition to obtaining new buyers, retailers might theoretically retain customers in shops for a prolonged period if their cars are charged outside.

Additional time spent in stores will increase the sum of money which retail consumers pay. For convenience retailers with gas stations, chargers for electric cars may add substantial time to a customer’s experience. Currently, charging an E.V. takes considerably longer than injecting petrol. A selection of charging times can be offered by the chargers which Electrify America uses from Efacec Electric Mobility, ABB, Signet E.V. and BTC Power suppliers. Some would use 50-kilowatt chargers to be on the faster end, and some might offer ultra-fast charging utilizing 350-kilowatt technology.