Connect with us

Uncategorized

The space tourism we were promised is finally here—sort of

Published

on

SpaceX weathered through the onset of the covid-19 pandemic last year to become the first private company to launch astronauts into space using a commercial spacecraft. 

It’s poised to build on that success with another huge milestone before 2021 is over. On Monday, the company announced plans to launch the first “all-civilian” mission into orbit by the end of the year. Called Inspiration4, the mission will take billionaire Jared Isaacman, a trained pilot and the CEO of digital payments company Shift4Payments, plus three others into low Earth orbit via a Crew Dragon vehicle for two to four days, possibly longer. 

Inspiration4 includes a charity element: Isaacman (the sole buyer of the mission and its “commander”) has donated $100 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, and is attempting to raise at least $100 million more from public donors. One seat is going to a “St. Jude ambassador” that’s already been chosen. But the two others are still up for grabs: one will be raffled off to someone who donates at least $10 to St. Jude, while the other will be a business entrepreneur chosen through a competition held by Shift4Payments. 

“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters on Monday. “It is only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all.”

Inspiration4 marks SpaceX’s fourth scheduled private mission in the next few years. The other three include a collaboration with Axiom Space to use Crew Dragon to take four people for an eight-day stay aboard the International Space Station (now scheduled for no earlier than January 2022); another Crew Dragon mission into orbit later that year for four private citizens through tourism company Space Adventures; and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s #dearMoon mission around the moon in 2023 for himself plus seven to 10 others aboard the Starship spacecraft.

SpaceX has never really billed itself as a space tourism company as aggressively as  Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have. While Crew Dragon goes all the way into low-Earth orbit, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicles just go into suborbital space, offering a taste of microgravity and a view of the Earth from high above for just a few minutes—but for way less money. And yet, in building a business that goes even farther, with higher launch costs and the need for more powerful rockets, SpaceX already has four more private missions on the books than any other company does. 

When Crew Dragon first took NASA astronauts into space last year, one of the biggest questions to come up was whether customers outside NASA would actually be interested in going.

“A lot of people believe there is a market for space tourism,” says Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert at American University in Washington, DC. “But right now it’s at the very high end. As transportation capabilities improve, the hope is that the costs will come down. That begs the question of whether or not you can sustain a new space company on space tourism alone. I think that’s questionable.”

So why has SpaceX’s expansion into the private mission scene gone so well so far? Part of it must be that it’s such an attractive brand to partner with at the moment. But even if a market does not materialize soon to make private missions a profitable venture, SpaceX doesn’t need to be concerned. It has plenty of other ways to make money. 

“I’m not sure Elon Musk cares much if he makes money through this business,” says McCurdy. “But he’s very good at leveraging and financing his operations.” SpaceX launches satellites for government and commercial customers around the world; it’s got contracts with NASA for taking cargo and astronauts alike to the space station; it’s ramping up progress with building out the Starlink constellation and should start offering internet services to customers some time this year. 

“It really reduces your risk when you can have multiple sources of revenue and business for an undertaking that’s based upon the single leap of rockets and space technologies,” says McCurdy. “The market for space tourism is not large enough to sustain a commercial space company. When combined with government contracts, private investments, and foreign sales it starts to become sustainable.”

Space tourism, especially to low-Earth orbit, will still remain incredibly expensive for the foreseeable future. And that underscores the issue of equity. “If we’re going into space, who’s the ‘we’?” asks McCurdy. “Is it just the top 1% of the top 1%?” 

The lottery concept addresses this to some extent and offers opportunities to ordinary people, but it won’t be enough on its own. Space tourism, and the rest of the space industry, still needs a sustainable model that can invite more people to participate. 

For now, SpaceX appears to be leading the drive to popularize space tourism. And competitors don’t necessarily need to emulate SpaceX’s business model precisely in order to catch up. Robert Goehlich, a German-based space policy professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, notes that space tourism itself is already multifaceted, encompassing suborbital flights, orbital flights, space station flights, space hotel flights, and moon flights. The market for one, such as cheaper suborbital flights, is not necessarily faced with the same constraints as the others.

Still, there is no question this could be the year private missions become a reality. “We’ve waited a long time for space tourism,” says McCurdy. “We’re going to get a chance this year to see if it works as expected.”

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

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

Snowflake latest enterprise company to feel Wall Street’s wrath after good quarter

Published

on

Snowflake reported earnings this week, and the results look strong with revenue more than doubling year-over-year.

However, while the company’s fourth quarter revenue rose 117% to $190.5 million, it apparently wasn’t good enough for investors, who have sent the company’s stock tumbling since it reported Wednesday after the bell.

It was similar to the reaction that Salesforce received from Wall Street last week after it announced a positive earnings report. Snowflake’s stock closed down around 4% today, a recovery compared to its midday lows when it was off nearly 12%.

Why the declines? Wall Street’s reaction to earnings can lean more on what a company will do next more than its most recent results. But Snowflake’s guidance for its current quarter appeared strong as well, with a predicted $195 million to $200 million in revenue, numbers in line with analysts’ expectations.

Sounds good, right? Apparently being in line with analyst expectations isn’t good enough for investors for certain companies. You see, it didn’t exceed the stated expectations, so the results must be bad. I am not sure how meeting expectations is as good as a miss, but there you are.

It’s worth noting of course that tech stocks have taken a beating so far in 2021. And as my colleague Alex Wilhelm reported this morning, that trend only got worse this week. Consider that the tech-heavy Nasdaq is down 11.4% from its 52-week high, so perhaps investors are flogging everyone and Snowflake is merely caught up in the punishment.

Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman pointed out in the earnings call this week that Snowflake is well positioned, something proven by the fact that his company has removed the data limitations of on-prem infrastructure. The beauty of the cloud is limitless resources, and that forces the company to help customers manage consumption instead of usage, an evolution that works in Snowflake’s favor.

“The big change in paradigm is that historically in on-premise data centers, people have to manage capacity. And now they don’t manage capacity anymore, but they need to manage consumption. And that’s a new thing for — not for everybody but for most people — and people that are in the public cloud. I have gotten used to the notion of consumption obviously because it applies equally to the infrastructure clouds,” Slootman said in the earnings call.

Snowflake has to manage expectations, something that translated into a dozen customers paying $5 million or more per month to Snowflake. That’s a nice chunk of change by any measure. It’s also clear that while there is a clear tilt toward the cloud, the amount of data that has been moved there is still a small percentage of overall enterprise workloads, meaning there is lots of growth opportunity for Snowflake.

What’s more, Snowflake executives pointed out that there is a significant ramp up time for customers as they shift data into the Snowflake data lake, but before they push the consumption button. That means that as long as customers continue to move data onto Snowflake’s platform, they will pay more over time, even if it will take time for new clients to get started.

So why is Snowflake’s quarterly percentage growth not expanding? Well, as a company gets to the size of Snowflake, it gets harder to maintain those gaudy percentage growth numbers as the law of large numbers begins to kick in.

I’m not here to tell Wall Street investors how to do their job, anymore than I would expect them to tell me how to do mine. But when you look at the company’s overall financial picture, the amount of untapped cloud potential and the nature of Snowflake’s approach to billing, it’s hard not to be positive about this company’s outlook, regardless of the reaction of investors in the short term.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

Published

on

After TechCrunch broke the news yesterday that Coursera was planning to file its S-1 today, the edtech company officially dropped the document Friday evening.

Coursera was last valued at $2.4 billion by the private markets, when it most recently raised a Series F round in October 2020 that was worth $130 million.

Coursera’s S-1 filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year. It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

Revenue

In 2020, Coursera saw $293.5 million in revenue. That’s a roughly 59% increase from the year prior when the company recorded $184.4 million in top line. During that same period, Coursera posted a net loss of nearly $67 million, up 46% from the previous year’s $46.7 million net deficit.

Notably the company had roughly the same noncash, share-based compensation expenses in both years. Even if we allow the company to judge its profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis, Coursera’s losses still rose from 2019 to 2020, expanding from $26.9 million to $39.8 million.

To understand the difference between net losses and adjusted losses it’s worth unpacking the EBITDA acronym. Standing for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” EBITDA strips out some nonoperating costs to give investors a possible better picture of the continuing health of a business, without getting caught up in accounting nuance. Adjusted EBITDA takes the concept one step further, also removing the noncash cost of share-based compensation, and in an even more cheeky move, in this case also deducts “payroll tax expense related to stock-based activities” as well.

For our purposes, even when we grade Coursera’s profitability on a very polite curve it still winds up generating stiff losses. Indeed, the company’s adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenue — a way of determining profitability in contrast to revenue — barely improved from a 2019 result of -15% to -14% in 2020.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

The owner of Anki’s assets plans to relaunch Cozmo and Vector this year

Published

on

Good robots don’t die — they just have their assets sold off to the highest bidder. Digital Dream Labs was there to sweep up IP in the wake of Anki’s premature implosion, back in 2019. The Pittsburgh-based edtech company had initially planned to relaunch Vector and Cozmo at some point in 2020, launching a Kickstarter campaign in March of last year.

The company eventually raised $1.8 million on the crowdfunding site, and today announced plans to deliver on the overdue relaunch, courtesy of a new distributor.

“There is a tremendous demand for these robots,” CEO Jacob Hanchar said in a release. “This partnership will complement the work our teams are already doing to relaunch these products and will ensure that Cozmo and Vector are on shelves for the holidays.”

I don’t doubt that a lot of folks are looking to get their hands on the robots. Cozmo, in particular, was well-received, and sold reasonably well — but ultimately (and in spite of a lot of funding), the company couldn’t avoid the fate that’s befallen many a robotics startup.

It will be fascinating to see how these machines look when they’re reintroduced. Anki invested tremendous resources into bringing them to life, including the hiring of ex-Pixar and DreamWorks staff to make the robots more lifelike. A lot of thought went into giving the robots a distinct personality, whereas, for instance, Vector’s new owners are making the robot open-source. Cozmo, meanwhile, will have programmable functionality through the company’s app.

It could certainly be an interesting play for the STEM market that companies like Sphero are approaching. It has become a fairly crowded space, but at least Anki’s new owners are building on top of a solid foundation, with the fascinating and emotionally complex toy robots their predecessors created.

Continue Reading

Trending