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This is what NASA wants to do when it gets to the moon

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When NASA finally gets back to the moon—probably not till sometime after 2024—it will start the groundwork for the first extraterrestrial colony in the history of human civilization, and for future missions to Mars. But America’s return for the first time since the Apollo program will also inaugurate a new era of deep-space science. A NASA report released on December 7 outlines what questions NASA still has about the moon, and how getting astronauts on the surface might help answer them.

The report hinges mainly on Artemis III, the mission to actually send astronauts back to the lunar surface (including the first woman to land on the moon). Much of the science that researchers want to do there could help engineers learn how humans can use lunar resources (like water ice) to develop a sustainable colony. It could also test out new architectures that will be important to going to Mars. Beyond that, there’s interest in learning more about the moon’s geology and interior, how it’s changed over time, and what its origins can tell us about the history of Earth and the solar system. 

Seismology

Having humans on the lunar surface means they can carry out quick experiments here and there, as well as install networks of instruments that can collect data for a very long time. “The Artemis III mission is an opportunity lost if the first of a series of geophysical and environmental network nodes is not deployed,” the report states. 

The moon’s seismic activity is of key interest. Apollo-era instruments first alerted us to the fact that the moon is not as dead and quiet as we once thought. It’s rumbling over time, experiencing moonquakes every now and then that leave the entire rock shaking. Although it’s suspected this is due to gravitational friction with Earth and not to tectonic plate movements, we don’t know enough to say for sure.  

Those Apollo instruments were turned off in 1977, but Artemis means we can put some new seismometers down on the moon that will detect even more sensitive moonquakes and help us determine what’s causing them.

Water

We know the moon has water—tons of it. Future lunar colonists could use this water to make breathable oxygen, drinkable water, and perhaps most important, rocket fuel. And we should be able to access it much more easily than we previously thought

Artemis III should offer our first chance to study the moon’s water content directly. We want to have a better sense of what sort of state it’s in, whether it’s permanent or part of a fluctuating water cycle, how widely distributed it is, and whether we truly can harvest it to derive something useful. If there are certain locations or geological structures where it should be more abundant, we’ll want to verify that, too. Crews on Artemis III will be able to drill down into the ground to see whether this water ice can be found at shallow depths, and they will be armed with instruments that can analyze its character more closely.

The history of Earth

The state of the moon can tell us something about what Earth experienced billions of years ago. Because the moon is a desolate place with no atmosphere, its surface is a pristine record of meteorite impacts over time. By considering the accumulation of craters and when they formed, we can glean some insights into what nearby Earth faced over time as well, especially during periods of the solar system when there were many more large rocks hurtling through space. Perhaps they were responsible for delivering elements and organics important to helping life evolve? The moon might be able to tell us more. 

Artemis III won’t be able to study every single crater on the moon. But direct measurements and observations of even a few can tell us what kinds of rocks were hitting the moon long ago and what they were made of, giving us a better sense of what was swirling around the solar system at the time and likely to have landed on Earth as well.

The history of the sun

Yes, we can even use the moon to study the sun. The airless moon has an ancient crust that’s basically witnessed billions of years of changes in solar winds and cosmic rays. We can measure specific electromagnetic spectrum variations in the lunar soil for clues to how radiation and heat from the sun has changed over the years.

Earth observation

Once we’re up there, we can take a look back. We already do this using satellites from our planet’s orbit, but the moon is also a convenient platform from which we can do Earth science. NASA’s report states that the moon could probably help scientists make observations at a higher resolution than those satellites stationed at Lagrange point L1 (a popular orbit for Earth science observatories), thanks to its closer proximity. The investigations could provide insight into lightning, the amount of light reflected from Earth, atmospheric chemistry, ocean science, and more. At a time when climate science is so critical, the moon might end up helping us more accurately calculate how fast the planet is warming.

Lunar gravity experiments

The moon’s gravity is just one-sixth of Earth’s, in an environment completely exposed to the vacuum of space. That means there’s a huge opportunity to conduct a ton of complex physics experiments. We could learn more about combustion and how fires spread in space (something with safety implications for future astronauts). There’s interest in seeing how different chemicals might react in this type of microgravity. There will be chances to better understand fluid dynamics for a host of different liquids. The list goes on and on.

Artemis III will not run through many of these experiments at all, but it will go a long way toward informing us what kinds of investigations can hit the ground running in Artemis IV, V, and beyond. 

Sample return

Many of the scientific goals discussed here can’t be achieved on the moon alone, and that’s why we need to bring samples back to Earth. Sample return missions are popular these days. Japan just brought back some materials from an asteroid. NASA is currently doing the same for another asteroid, and it’s also got a Mars sample return mission planned for later. China just scooped up some rubble from the moon and should be bringing those materials back to Earth in just a few days. 

According to its report, NASA wants to have the Artemis III crew collect a diverse set of samples from many different locations, across a broad spectrum of the geology. And it wants to bring back a bigger total mass of material than the average Apollo mission did. More samples means we no longer have to be so conservative about what kinds of experiments we conduct. If we want to expose moon rocks to conditions that might change them forever, we can do that knowing there’s still plenty left.

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

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Will this time be any different for Twitter?

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As Twitter seems to buy its way into competing with Clubhouse and Substack, one wonders whether the beleaguered social media company is finally ready to move past its truly awful track record of seizing opportunities.

Twitter’s pace of product ambition has certainly seemed to speed in the past several months, conveniently following shareholder action to oust CEO Jack Dorsey last year. They’ve finally rolled out their Stories product Fleets, they’ve embraced audio both in the traditional feed and with their beta Spaces feature, and they’ve taken some much-publicized steps to reign in disinformation and content moderation woes (though there’s still plenty to be done there).

In the past few weeks, Twitter has also made some particularly interesting acquisitions. Today, it was announced that they were buying Revue, a newsletter management startup. Earlier this month, they bought Breaker, a podcasting service. Last month, they bought Squad, a social screen-sharing app.

It’s an aggressive turn that follows Twitter’s announcement that it will be shutting down Periscope, a live video app that was purchased and long-neglected by Twitter despite the fact that the company’s current product chief was its founder.

TikTok’s wild 2020 success in fully realizing the broader vision for Vine, which Twitter shut down in 2017, seems to be a particularly embarrassing stain on the company’s history; it’s also the most crystallized example of Twitter shooting itself in the foot as a result of not embracing risk. And while Twitter was ahead of that curve and simply didn’t make it happen, Substack and Clubhouse are two prime examples of competitors which Twitter could have prevented from reaching their current stature if it had just been more aggressive in recognizing adjacent social market opportunities and sprung into action.

It’s particularly hard to reckon in the shadow of Facebook’s ever-swelling isolation. Once the eager enemy of any social upstart, Facebook finds itself desperately complicated by global politics and antitrust woes in a way that may never strike it down, but have seemed to slow its maneuverability. A startup like Clubhouse may once seemed like a prime acquisition target, but it’s too complicated of a purchase for Facebook to even attempt in 2021, leaving Twitter a potential competitor that could scale to full size on its own.

Twitter is a much smaller company than Facebook is, though it’s still plenty big. As the company aims to move beyond the 2020 US election that ate up so much of its attention and expand its ambitions, one of its most pertinent challenges will be reinvigorating a product culture to recognize opportunities and take on rising competitors — though another challenge might be getting its competition to take it seriously in the first place.

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Sila Nanotechnologies raises $590M to fund battery materials factory

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Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley battery materials company, has spent years developing technology designed to pack more energy into a cell at a lower cost — an end game that has helped it lock in partnerships with Amperex Technology Limited as well as automakers BMW and Daimler.

Now, Sila Nano, flush with a fresh injection of capital that has pushed its valuation to $3.3 billion, is ready to bring its technology to the masses.

The company, which was founded nearly a decade ago, said Tuesday it has raised $590 million in a Series F funding round led by Coatue with significant participation by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the round.

Sila Nano plans to use the funds to hire another 100 people this year and begin to buildout a factory in North America capable of producing 100 gigawatt-hours of silicon-based anode material, which is used in batteries for the smartphone and automotive industries. While the company hasn’t revealed the location of the factory, it does have a timeline. Sila Nano said it plans to start production at the factory in 2024. Materials produced at the plant will be in electric vehicles by 2025, the company said.

“It took eight years and 35,000 iterations to create a new battery chemistry, but that was just step one,” Sila Nano CEO and co-founder Gene Berdichevsky said in a statement. “For any new technology to make an impact in the real-world, it has to scale, which will cost billions of dollars. We know from our experience building our production lines in Alameda that investing in our next plant today will keep us on track to be powering cars and hundreds of millions of consumer devices by 2025.”

The tech

A lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. Typically, an electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier, moving ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries.

Sila Nano has developed a silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The critical detail is that the material was designed to take the place of graphite in without needing to change the battery manufacturing process or equipment.

Sila Nano has been focused on silicon anode because the material can store a lot more lithium ions. Using a material that lets you pack in more lithium ions would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density — or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume — of the cell. The upshot would be a cheaper battery that contains more energy in the same space.

The opportunity

It’s a compelling product for automakers attempting to bring more electric vehicles to market. Nearly every global automaker has announced plans or is already producing a new batch of all-electric and plug-in electric vehicles, including Ford, GM, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai and Kia. Tesla continues to ramp up production of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles as a string of newcomers like Rivian prepare to bring their own EVs to market.

In short: the demand of batteries is climbing; and automakers are looking for the next-generation tech that will give them a competitive edge.

Battery production sat at about 20 GWh per year in 2010. Sila Nano expects it to jump to 2,000 GWh per year by 2030 and 30,000 GWh per year by 2050.

Sila Nano started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries.

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Daily Crunch: Calendly valued at $3B

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A popular scheduling startup raises a big funding round, Twitter makes a newsletter acquisition and Beyond Meat teams up with PepsiCo. This is your Daily Crunch for January 26, 2021.

The big story: Calendly valued at $3B

Calendly, which helps users schedule and confirm meeting times, has raised $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.

Until now, the Atlanta-based startup had only raised $550K, but the company says it has 10 million monthly users, with $70 million in subscription revenue last year.

“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle,” said OpenView’s Blake Bartlett.

The tech giants

Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue — Twitter is getting into the newsletter business.

TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens — Sellers are offering flavored disposable vapes, parent-proof “discreet” packaging and no ID checks.

PepsiCo and Beyond Meat launch poorly named joint venture for new plant-based food and drinks — The name? The PLANeT Partnership.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fast raises $102M as the online checkout wars continue to attract huge investment — The new funding was led by Stripe.

SetSail nabs $26M Series A to rethink sales compensation — SetSail says salespeople should be paid them throughout the sales cycle.

Mealco raises $7M to launch new delivery-centric restaurants — By launching a restaurant with Mealco, chefs don’t sign a lease or pay any other upfront costs.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Ten VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021 — We asked about the likelihood of further industry consolidation, whether we’ll see more digital media companies take the SPAC route and, of course, what they’re looking for in their next investment.

The five biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder — Finmark CEO Rami Essaid has some regrets.

Does a $27B or $29B valuation make sense for Databricks? — A look at Databricks’ growth history, economics and scale.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

President Joe Biden commits to replacing entire federal fleet with electric vehicles — His commitment is tied to a broader campaign promise to create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry and supply chains.

Meet the early-stage founder community at TC Early Stage 2021 — Early Stage part one focuses on operations and fundraising and takes place on April 1-2, while Early Stage part two focusing on marketing, PR and fundraising and runs July 8-9.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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