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Rocket Lab’s next launch will deliver 30 satellites to orbit – and a 3D-printed gnome from Gabe Newell

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Rocket Lab’s next mission will put dozens of satellites into orbit using the launch company’s Kick Stage “space tug,” as well as a 3D-printed garden gnome from Valve Software’s Gabe Newell. The latter is a test of a new manufacturing technique, but also a philanthropic endeavor from the gaming industry legend.

Scheduled for no earlier than November 15 (or 16 at the New Zealand launch site), the as-yet-unnamed launch — Rocket Lab gives all of their missions cheeky names — will be the company’s “most diverse ever,” it said in a press release.

A total of 30 satellites will be deployed using Rocket Lab’s own Kick Stage deployment platform, which like other “space tugs” detaches from the second stage once a certain preliminary orbit is reached and then delivers its payloads each at their own unique trajectory. That’s the most individual satellites every taken up at once by Rocket Lab.

24 of them are Swarm Technologies’ tiny SpaceBEEs, the sandwich-sized communications satellites it will be using to power a low-cost, low-bandwidth global network for Internet of Things devices.

The most unusual payload, however, is certainly “Gnome Chompski,” whose passage was paid by Valve president Newell: a 3D-printed figure that will remain attached to the Kick Stage until it burns up on reentry. The figure, a replica of an item from the popular Half-Life series of PC games, was made by Weta Workshop, the effects studio behind Lord of the Rings and many other films. It’s both a test of a potentially useful new component printing technique and “an homage to the innovation and creativity of gamers worldwide.”

More importantly, Newell will donate a dollar to Starship Children’s Hospital for every viewer of the launch, so you’ll definitely want to tune in for this one. (I’m waiting to find out more from Newell, if possible.)

The launch will also deliver satellites for TriSept, Unseenlabs, and the Auckland Space Institute — the last will be New Zealand’s first student-built spacecraft.

Rocket Lab has worked hard to make its launch platform all-in-one, so prospective customers don’t have to shop around for various services or components. Ideally, the company’s CEO has said, anyone should be able to come to the company with the barebones payload and the rest is taken care of.

Image Credits: Rocket Lab

“Small satellite operators shouldn’t have to compromise on orbits when flying on a rideshare mission, and we’re excited to provide tailored access to space for 30 satellites on this mission. It’s why we created the Kick Stage to enable custom orbits on every mission, and eliminate the added complexity, time, and cost of having to develop your own spacecraft propulsion or using a third-party space tug,” Beck said in the press release.

Rocket Lab recently launched its own home-grown satellite, First Light, to show that getting to orbit doesn’t have be such a “pain in the butt,” as Beck put it then.

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

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Cultured meat has been approved for consumers for the first time

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The first lab-grown, or cultured, meat product has been given the green light to be sold for human consumption. In the landmark approval, regulators in Singapore granted Just, a San Francisco–based startup, the right to sell cultured chicken—in the form of chicken nuggets—to the public. 

Just had been working with the regulators for the past two years and was formally granted approval on November 26. Singapore’s regulatory body assembled a panel of seven experts in food toxicology, bioinformatics, nutrition, epidemiology, public health policy, food science, and food technology to evaluate each stage of Just’s manufacturing process and make sure the chicken is safe to eat. “They didn’t just look at the final product; they looked at all the steps that led to that product,“ says Josh Tetrick, Just’s cofounder and CEO. “We were impressed with how thoughtful and rigorous they were.”  

An as-yet-unnamed restaurant in Singapore will soon be the first to have Just’s cultured chicken on the menu, but Tetrick says he plans to expand after that. “We’ll go from a single restaurant to five to 10 and then eventually into retail and then after that, outside Singapore,” he says. 

Most cultured meat is made in a similar way. Cells are taken from an animal, often via a biopsy or from an established animal cell line. These cells are then fed a nutrient broth and placed in a bioreactor, where they multiply until there are enough to harvest for use in meatballs or nuggets. A slew of startups have been founded using variations on this approach, in the belief that cultured meat will appeal to flexitarians—people who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat for ethical or environmental reasons, but don’t want to give it up entirely.

The budding industry has progressed a long way since a $330,000 burger was famously cooked on TV in 2013, driven by the idea that if it’s done right, meat could be produced with far lower greenhouse-gas emissions and zero animal suffering. But cost is still a hurdle: the high price of the growth factors required to develop the cells mean the price tags for pure cultured meat products are still measured in hundreds of dollars per pound, far too expensive to compete with regular meat. So Just’s first chicken products will be chicken “bites” that use cultured chicken cells mixed with plant protein—although Tetrick wouldn’t say in what proportion. “Chicken nuggets are already blended—this one wont be any different,” he says. The bites will be labeled as “cultured chicken” on the restaurant’s menu.

Singapore’s decision could kick-start the first wave of regulatory approvals around the world.

“We are hoping and expecting that the US, China, and the EU will pick up the gauntlet that Singapore just threw down,” says Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that works in meat alternatives. “Nothing is more important for the climate than a shift away from industrial animal agriculture.”

While Just has beaten them to the punch, many big firms are already working with regulators to get their own products to market. This is not something to be rushed, Friedrich says: “It is critical for cultivated meat companies to be extra careful and to go beyond consumer expectation in ensuring consumer comfort with their products.”  

Memphis Meats, which counts Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and traditional meat manufacturer Tyson Foods among its many investors, has teamed up with a number of other firms, including Just and cultured-seafood makers BlueNalu and Finless Foods, to form a lobbying group that is working with US regulators to get their products approved.

The way that might actually happen was only hammered out relatively recently. In March 2019, it was announced that the FDA would regulate the early stages of the cultured-meat process, including cell banks and cell growth. The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will then take over at the cell harvesting stage and will inspect production facilities and approve labels used on cultured-meat products. In Europe, companies must apply for authorization and meet the European Union’s regulation on novel foods. The process is likely to take at least 18 months, and no cultured-meat company has yet applied.

Both Singapore and Israel have actively made themselves welcoming to startups in plant and cultured meat, Freidrich says. Governments should follow their lead and start treating this like initiatives in renewable energy and global health, he says.

“We need a space-race-type commitment toward making meat from plants or growing it from cells,” he says. “We need a Manhattan Project focused on remaking meat.”

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Longtime investor and operator Adam Nash says he just launched a new fintech startup

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Adam Nash, a Silicon Valley-born-and-bred operator and investor, is back at it again.

Today, on his personal blog, he announced that he has started a consumer fintech company that has already garnered initial funding from Ribbit Capital, along with other “friends and angels” who appear to have also pitched into the round, including Box CEO Aaron Levie, Mighty Networks founder Gina Bianchini, Superhuman founder Rahul Vohra, and Amy Chang, who sold her startup Accompany to Cisco in 2018.

Nash didn’t reveal many details in the post or later on Twitter, saying he’ll have more to say when the company is closer to launching. All we really know at this point is that he cofounded the company with Alejandro Crosa, an Argentinian software engineer who most recently spent five months at Slack but logged more than three years at both Twitter and LinkedIn before that.

Nash said on Twitter that the two met at LinkedIn, where Nash was himself VP of product management for four years beginning in 2007. It’s a good detail to know, considering that Nash has logged time at a wide variety of tech outfits over the years, making it hard to guess at whom he knows and from where.

A computer science graduate of Stanford, where he later nabbed a master’s degree, Nash began his career interning at NASA, HP, and Trilogy before landing his first big job as a software engineer at Apple in 1996 (when former PepsiCo exec, John Sculley, was briefly running the place).

After moving on to a bubble-era company that no longer exists, Nash tried his hand at VC for the first time, joining Atlas Venture as an associate. To get more operating experience, he then jumped to eBay, where he was a director; LinkedIn, where he met Crosa; then Greylock, where he spent just over a year as an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) before joining the wealth-management startup Wealthfront as its president and CEO, a job that the company’s original CEO and founder, Andy Rachleff, reclaimed in 2016.

Nash didn’t disappear from the scene. Instead, he rejoined Greylock as an EIR for another year before joining Dropbox shortly after it went public in 2018 as its VP of product and growth, leaving that post back in February to start his own thing, he said at the time.

That Nash would start a fintech company specifically isn’t surprising, considering his involvement with Wealthfront, as well as some of the personal investments he has made in recent years.

In 2018, for example, he wrote a check to LearnLux, a five-year-old, Boston-based educational startup that helps employees better understand their 401k, health savings accounts, and stock options. He is also an investor in Human Interest, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based startup that offers automated, paperless 401(k) plans.

Nash is also riding a very big wave.  According to Pitchbook, consumer fintech is on pace to attract a record amount of venture funding in 2020, at least in North America and Europe.

We’ll let you know more about what Nash is building as soon as he’s ready to share more. The little that Nash is saying publicly for now is that he and Crosa believe there is “still a lot more to do in consumer fintech, and that through software we can help bring purpose to the way people approach their financial lives.”

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Apple’s MagSafe Duo charger is now available

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Back in October Apple announced the MagSafe Duo, a folding travel charger capable of charging both the iPhone and either an Apple Watch or AirPods simultaneously/wirelessly. In an unusual move, the company didn’t specify exactly when it’d start shipping — or even when it’d go up for sale. Some rumors suggested late December, while others were uncertain it would even make it out before the end of the year. When was this thing actually going to be released?

The answer, it seems, is today. The MagSafe Duo just appeared on Apple’s own store and, with delivery estimates as soon as this week, it looks like they’re shipping them immediately.

TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino gave the charger a spin a few weeks ago, calling it “useful, but expensive and underwhelming” while noting that it feels like something that should cost around $70 rather than $129.

 

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