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The five biggest effects Trump has had on the US space program

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The US space program has been a footnote to every presidential administration since Richard Nixon. Nothing, not even the space shuttle or the International Space Station, could define a presidency or an era of American life the way the Apollo program did. 

It still won’t define the first (and maybe only) presidential term of Donald Trump. But even before Trump moved into the White House, his campaign and some of his policy advisors in the space community dropped hints that the administration would take a big interest in the direction of the space program

Sure enough, there were some major changes. Many of these new policies had their origins before Trump. But the administration accelerated things to a speed the program has not moved at in decades. 

Whether Trump is reelected or not, he has had an outsize impact on the space program. That influence will be felt over the next four years no matter who occupies the White House. Here are the five biggest impacts Trump has had on US space policy.

1 From Mars to the moon

On December 11, 2017, Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, which officially called for NASA to begin work on a human exploration program that would return astronauts to the surface of the moon and lay the groundwork for a sustained presence (i.e., a lunar colony). This was a pivot from President Obama’s directions for NASA to build a program that would take humans to Mars in the 2030s and establish a sustained presence there. The plan was for the moon missions to utilize the architectures being developed for Mars, such as the next-generation Space Launch System and the Orion deep space crew capsule.

Early last year, the administration accelerated the timeline for the return to 2024. “The common thread among many of the policy options, transition and industry officials said, is a focus on projects able to attract widespread voter support that realistically can be completed during Mr. Trump’s current four-year presidential term,” the Wall Street Journal reported in 2017. Though a 2024 landing would happen in a second term, should Trump win reelection it would be a defining achievement of his presidency. Most experts agree, however, that NASA is increasingly unlikely to meet that deadline.  

But there are also arguments for why the moon makes sense. As current NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine likes to say, the moon is a “proving ground” for deep space missions to places like Mars. It’s easier to get to, offers a low-gravity environment to test out life support systems and other technologies needed for long-term off-world living, and could be a site of fuel production for future spacecraft

During Obama’s presidency, many people in the space community felt that going directly to Mars “was such a big problem, and the money was so inadequate for that, that it became almost worse than nothing,” says Casey Dreier, a space policy expert with the Planetary Society. “They said they were going to Mars but contributed almost nothing to that effort.” 

As Obama’s term drew to a close, “it became very clear that the moon was going to have to be the objective,” says James Vedda, a policy analyst with the Aerospace Corporation. “Trump just made it official.”

This won’t change, even if there’s a new administration in the White House come January. The Democratic platform released this year says the party is on board with going to the moon, though the unreasonable 2024 deadline will likely get pushed back.

2 Commercialization of low Earth orbit 

This was another trend continued from past administrations. The Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program (which contracted private companies to run resupply missions to the ISS) had its beginnings under George W. Bush and matured under Obama. The success of this program helped bolster support for the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) under Obama (when Joe Biden was vice president), which aimed to replace the space shuttle with commercial vehicles developed by SpaceX and Boeing to send astronauts to the space station. After numerous delays (some of which put NASA in the unenviable position of having to extend its reliance on Russia for access to the ISS), CCP finally realized its goals in May, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle took astronauts to the ISS.

Trump can’t take credit for CRS or CCP, but he can take credit for applying its blueprint to the space program as a whole (even if CCP’s success is still to be determined). Trump embraced commercialization of low Earth orbit. “Seeing [CRS and CCP] pay off now with a sort of Midas touch about it, we’ve seen NASA now take that and put it almost everywhere it possibly can,” says Dreier. NASA wants to buy moon rocks from private companies, buy Earth science imagery from commercial satellites, open the ISS up to private visitors, and bring private companies to the moon

In Dreier’s view, the big question is whether the success of sending people to the space station through commercial partners can be replicated elsewhere, for things that haven’t been tried before. A commercial company has never landed on the moon—yet in less than four years a commercially built lander is expected to do exactly that, with human astronauts. The Trump administration has set things into turbo-drive, resulting in a flurry of new activities and opportunities for the commercial sector. But given how volatile spaceflight is, a new administration might prefer to slow down that approach to strengthen safety testing. 

3 Space Force

The rise of China and the deterioration of relations with Russia, the only other two space powers that could rival the US, have been a concern for US officials on both sides of the political aisle. The potential for conflicts in orbit has grown over time.

The Trump administration’s big idea? Space Force. It sounds like something from a 1950s comic book, but it was essentially a catchy way of making sure enough attention and resources would be devoted to scanning Earth’s orbit for threats and fortifying national assets against interference. As space activity grew, that organization would grow as well—and the Air Force could concentrate on things on the ground. 

Not everyone thinks it is such a good idea. A major argument against Space Force is that it doesn’t do anything the Air Force didn’t already handle. It reorganizes those operations under one roof, but it also adds new layers of hierarchy and bureaucracy. As the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon has argued, the creation of a small US Space Command to oversee space operations across the military made sense; a bloated Space Force does not. 

Both Democrats and Republicans had pondered creating such an organization for quite some time, says Vedda. He thinks Trump’s real impact was to accelerate the timeline by a decade and make the venture permanent. There isn’t really a path to disband the Space Force, even if a new administration wanted to (and the Biden campaign has made no suggestion it would try). More frequent antisatellite testing by Russiahas made it clear that conflicts in space can and are likely to spring up in the future. Space Force might sound silly—but it’s probably here to stay.

4 Earth science

It’s hardly been a secret Trump has spent his entire term trying to gut NASA’s work in studying climate change. The administration tried to ax NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 mission. It still wants to cancel the ocean-observing PACE mission and the climate-studying CLARREO mission. NOAA has suffered decreases in funding for its environmental satellite programs.

Trump hasn’t eliminated the Earth science observation that’s done from space, but he’s blunted its impact by limiting how the data can be used. At a time when climate change is getting worse and we should be augmenting these programs, the administration has chosen instead to leave the Paris accords and deregulate greenhouse-gas emissions. 

5 National Space Council

Lastly, an achievement for Trump that has rather slipped under the radar: the resurrection of the National Space Council, a body (defunct since 1993) that brings together officials from many different parts of the government (such as national security, energy, commerce, and transportation) to discuss the US space program. Space encompasses a lot of different areas, but Vedda argues that people tend to specialize in only one, which makes it harder for them to think about considerations outside their own field. “Issues can very easily fall through the cracks,” he says. “The National Space Council makes sure none of these things fall through the cracks.”

The Trump administration’s decision to resurrect the council was unusual, helped by the fact that Vice President Mike Pence (who chairs the council) took a big interest in space. It has been a surprising force in shaping the direction of US space policy, bringing together discussions on everything from how the military and NASA could collaborate to satellite regulation and communications standards to future technology and energy experiments. It’s unclear whether Biden would keep the council going. Space officials from around the country recently came together to “war game” a hypothetical council operating under Biden, but if his running mate, Kamala Harris, shows no interest, it could very well be on its way out once again.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

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The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

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Two-year-old Day One Ventures raises new $52.5M fund to invest in Valley startups

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Back in 2018 Day One Ventures launched in Silicon Valley specifically designed to be both a VC and an investor that would also lead marketing and communications for its portfolio. Two years on, Day One has invested in numerous startups to do just that and has today filed with the SEC its new $52.5M fund.

The new fund is similar to the first one: investing across industries from pre-seed to seed, with occasional series A investments (from $100K to $5M).

The fund was founded and is headed by Russian émigré Masha Drokova, who, since arriving in the US a few years ago, has been variously a PR and angel investor, but famously dumped her former life in Russia as a politician and TV reporter.

Drokova says the fund focuses on ‘day one’ companies, as defined by Jeff Bezos, which have ‘customer obsession’ in-built into their company culture.

She says the fund was raised during the pandemic over zoom with $45 million coming from LPs in the first fund. More than 30% of the capital is invested in POC founders; it has 25 female founders in its portfolio; and 33% of its capital is invested in high-growth ‘impact’ companies. Day one has frequently co-invested with Andreessen, Index Ventures, Founders Fund, and Lightspeed.

The fund has had three exits so far: Lvl5, Acquired, Feastly and has invested in Remote.com (with Index and Sequoia).

So far among its portfolio is:

DoNotPay: British founder Joshua Browder, started a chatbot that pays your parking ticket, cancels subscriptions and gets refunds for you. This raised a $15M series A led by Coatue and Andreessen.
Superhuman: An AI-based email client for execs founded by Brit Rahul Vohra – it has raised $35M series B from Andreessen.
MSCHF: This creates viral and controversial products on a Supreme-drop-like model, invested with Founders Fund.
Truebill: a personal finance & savings app.

The fund says its portfolio companies have now raised $825 million in aggregate; over 25% of its capital is in fintech companies; over 30% in AI-powered startups; and it claims to have hit over 500 media publications for its portfolio.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Drakova said “We choose startups with ‘customer obsession’ as the main focus for selection. Secondly, our value add in communications means we have people like Jack Randall who did comms for Robin Hood on our team. Not many women immigrants to the US have raised as much as this, as fast as this. So it’s a good sign for the market.”

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India bans another 43 Chinese apps

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India is not done banning Chinese apps. The world’s second largest internet market, which has banned over 175 apps with links to the neighboring nation in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 such apps.

Like with the previous orders, India cited cybersecurity concerns to block these apps. “This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” said India’s IT Ministry in a statement.

The ministry said it issued the order of blocking these apps “based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs.”

The apps that have been banned include popular short video service Snack Video, which had surged to the top of the chart in recent months, as well as e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, and shopping app Taobao Live. Full list here. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be any Chinese app left in the top 500 apps used in India.

Tuesday order comes as a handful of apps including PUBG Mobile and TikTok explore ways to make a return to the country. In recent weeks, PUBG has registered a local entity in India, partnered with Microsoft for computing needs, and publicly vowed to invest $100 million in the country. Though it is yet to hear from the government.

Tensions between the world’s two most populous nations escalated after more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in the Himalayas in June. Ever since, “Boycott China” sentiment has trended on social media in India as a growing number of people post videos demonstrating destruction of Chinese-made smartphones, TVs and other products.

In April, India also made a change to its foreign investment policy that requires Chinese investors — who have ploughed billions of dollars into Indian startups in recent years — to take approval from New Delhi before they could write new checks to Indian firms. The move has significantly reduced Chinese investors’ presence in Indian startups’ deal flows in the months since.

More to follow…

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