Intel inks deal with Department of Defense to support domestic chip-building ecosystem

Intel has signed a deal with the Department of Defense to support a domestic commercial chip-building ecosystem. The chipmaker will lead the first phase of a program called Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes – Commercial (RAMP-C), which aims to bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain.

The chipmaker’s recently launched division, Intel Foundry Services, will lead the program.

As part of RAMP-C, Intel will partner with IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others to establish a domestic commercial foundry ecosystem. Intel says the program was designed to create custom integrated circuits and commercial products required by the Department of Defense’s systems.

“The RAMP-C program will enable both commercial foundry customers and the Department of Defense to take advantage of Intel’s significant investments in leading-edge process technologies,” said Randhir Thakur, president of Intel Foundry Services, in a statement. “Along with our customers and ecosystem partners, including IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others, we will help bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain and ensure the United States maintains leadership in both R&D and advanced manufacturing.”

Intel recently announced that it plans to invest approximately $20 billion to build two new factories in Arizona, as it aims to become a major provider for domestic foundry customers. The company says the factories will support expanding requirements for its products.

The chipmaker’s partnership with the Department of Defense comes amid the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, which is due in part to the pandemic and its impact on the global supply chain. The company is among other tech and auto giants in continuous talks with the White House regarding possible solutions for the shortage. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger met with Biden administration officials last month to discuss plans to build more chip factories and to appeal for subsidies.

In a new statement regarding RAMP-C, Gelsinger states that “one of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors, and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry.”

“When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the U.S. government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C,” Gelsinger added.

Gelsinger came on board as CEO in January with the aim to turn around the chipmaker and pursue new strategies for manufacturing and selling chips. A few months ago, Intel was rumoured to be in talks to buy chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries for $30 billion, but there’s been no news on that front.

#chip-makers, #department-of-defense, #intel, #tc

Intel Foundry Services gets a boost from $100M Pentagon award for US-made chips

Intel Foundry Services gets a boost from $100M Pentagon award for US-made chips

Enlarge (credit: ony Avelar/Bloomberg)

Intel announced Monday that it has been awarded a contract for foundry services through a Department of Defense program intended to support leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing in the US. 

Though Intel’s share of the estimated $100 million award wasn’t disclosed, it is certain to boost Intel’s fledgling Foundry Services division that was announced in March as a part of the company’s IDM 2.0 strategy. The company will be working alongside IBM and electronic design automation companies Cadence and Synopsys. The program, known as “Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes—Commercial or RAMP-C,” seeks to expand the Pentagon’s access to trusted, secure, and reliable chips from sub-7 nm process technology.

“One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said. “When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the US government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C.”

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#department-of-defense, #intel, #pentagon, #policy, #semiconductors, #tsmc

With more cash and a launch, Vannevar Labs is reconnecting Silicon Valley to its defense industry roots

Silicon Valley was once one of the most productive regions in the country for the defense industry, churning out chips and technologies that helped the United States overtake the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Since then, the region has been known far less for silicon and defense than for the consumer internet products of Google, Facebook and Netflix.

A small number of startups though are attempting to revitalize that important government-industry nexus as the rise of China pushes more defense planners in Washington to double down on America’s technical edge. Vannevar Labs is one of this new crop, and it has hit some new milestones in its quest to displace traditional defense contractors with Silicon Valley entrepreneurial acumen.

I last chatted with the company just as it was debuting in late 2019, having raised a $4.5 million seed. The company has been quiet and heads down the past two years as it developed a product and traction within the defense establishment. Now it’s ready to reveal a bit more of what all that work has culminated in.

First, the company officially launched its Vannevar Decrypt product in January of this year. It’s focused on foreign language natural language processing, organizing overseas data and resources that are collected by the intelligence community and then immediately translating and interpreting those documents for foreign policy decision-makers. CEO and co-founder Brett Granberg said that the product “went from one deployment to a dozen adoptions.”

Second, the company raised a $12 million Series A investment in May from Costanoa Ventures and Point72 with General Catalyst participating. Costanoa and GC co-led the startup’s seed round.

Finally, the company has been on a hiring spree. The team has grown into a crew of 20 employees, and the firm last week brought on Scott Sanders to lead business development. Sanders was one of the earliest employees at Anduril, and had spent several years at the company. Vannevar also added John Doyle, a long-time Palantir employee who was head of its national security business, onto its board according to Granberg. Today, the team is equally split between national security folks and technologists, and he says that the team is set to double this year.

Vannevar Labs

Co-founders Nini Moorhead and Brett Granberg of Vannevar Labs. Photo via Vannevar Labs.

With a few years of hindsight, Granberg says that he has refined what he considers the best model for defense tech startups to break into the hardscrabble market at the Pentagon and across Northern Virginia.

First, there needs to be incredible focus on getting access to actual end users and learning their work. The functions that defense and intelligence personnel perform are completely different from operations in the commercial economy, and trying to translate what works at a large corporation into defense is a fool’s errand. “You need to have both the DNA of understanding new technology and the DNA of deeply understanding a lot of different use cases within DoD,” Granberg said, referencing the Department of Defense.

That’s directly informed how Decrypt has developed over time. “We started focusing on the counter-terrorism space, and as the government moved away from counter-terrorism, we started moving to the foreign actors that were important,” he said. “Once we have our first couple of deployments, we are able to iterate very, very quickly.”

He also strongly eschews a popular view in defense procurement circles that there are “dual-use” technologies that can be used equally well in commercial and defense applications. “Some of the most important mission problems where the government spends the most money and has the most interest,” he explained, are also contexts where commercial off-the-shelf products (dubbed COTS in the industry parlance) are least useful. He says startups targeting defense simply cannot split their bandwidth by also trying to learn commercial use cases.

In fact, he went so far to predict that “you are going to see a lot of companies that have raised a lot of money that will fizzle out in the coming years” because they just can’t nail the dual-use model well.

Second, he argues that defense tech startups need to move beyond the model that each company should work on one platform, and instead move to an organizational model where a company offers multiple products to reach scale. Each product has the potential to reach “a couple of hundred million in revenue” according to Granberg, but it is hard to expand a company’s size if it doesn’t parallelize product development.

To that end, Granberg said that he pushes Vannevar Labs to always be exploring new product lines for growth. “Decrypt is our first product [but]10% of our energy is in new product efforts,” he said. “I can imagine when we are three to four years down the line… it might be 9-10 products.” He said that the one platform approach might have worked for Palantir, which ironically, is the major winner in the defense tech space the last few years. But newer companies like Anduril and Shield AI have been designed around product line expansion.

Finally, noting those other companies, Granberg believes there is something of a collective benefit as each startup makes headway in the defense sector. “There is this theory in our space that we don’t view ourselves as competitors — if one of us does well, we all do well,” he said. Given the varied mission requirements of different agencies and the absolute massive scale of budgets in this field, startups actually have a lot of independent terrain to explore, even if they come up against the big legacy defense contractors on a regular basis.

As for Vannevar Labs, its next goal is to turn its Decrypt product into a program of record, which would guarantee it a certain level of sales and revenue for potentially years into the future. That’s a huge bar to leap, but would be a turning point in the company’s long-term trajectory.

#anduril, #defense-tech, #department-of-defense, #foreign-language, #funding, #fundings-exits, #government, #natural-language-processing, #startups

Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.


Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

Silicon Valley should fight its stigma against military work

Political debate at work was not encouraged when I was training to be a doctor at the LAC+USC Medical Center in the early 2000s.

On the 13th-floor jail ward, we had a professional duty to care for drunk drivers and thieves just like any other patient and leave any opinions about criminal justice policy for their appropriate venues.

Medicine is not unique in this respect — we’re all better off when lawyers, soldiers and other public service providers place their duty to society over individual opinions.

Technology companies often aspire to fill similarly critical roles in society, but few have internalized the separation between professional duty and personal opinion. I have seen this firsthand as the founder of a tech company that serves a wide range of organizations, including amateur to collegiate and professional sports, occupational health and a growing roster of military commands.

Many founders fail to explore DOD opportunities because they do not want to be seen as engaging in the business of war.

During the last presidential administration, a handful of colleagues questioned whether serving the military was consistent with our mission of helping the world move better. Over the past few years, this stigma toward military work has roiled some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley, sometimes leading to contract cancelations, non-renewal pledges and a noticeable chilling effect toward work involving the United States military.

Partnerships between technology companies and the military are nothing new, but rarely have they attracted as much controversy as they do today. These partnerships were the norm throughout the 20th century, yielding war-winning technologies — like microwave radar, GPS and ARPANET — that pulled double-duty in peacetime as the building blocks of our modern connected world.

Military contracts have been traditionally viewed in Silicon Valley as a win-win — for the nation’s military superiority and for a company’s bottom line. Moonshot projects backed by the federal government’s financial resources also represented some of the most interesting workarounds for product-minded technologists.

That relationship has been knocked off its bearings over the past several years, with employees at Microsoft, Google and Amazon, among other companies, seeking to distance themselves from all federal projects due to the revulsion of the previous administration’s policies. But with new leadership in Washington, companies and tech workers need to determine if the stigma against military work will become permanently ingrained or limited to one chapter in an evolving relationship.

Before looking forward, one common misconception is worth correcting from the previous administration about the tension between employees and the military. Recent research challenges the notion that anti-military views are universal among the tech workforce.

In a survey conducted between late 2019 and early 2020, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology found that less than a quarter of AI professionals view Pentagon work in a negative light, and 78% consider it a positive or neutral.

Companies that are open to pursuing opportunities with the Department of Defense should consider several advantages and differences between commercial and government clients.

Federal contracts are generally distinguished by large dollar amounts, low profit margins and long periods of performance. This can appeal to VC-backed companies that are valued based on revenue, and the unique structure of government contracts brings a welcome complement to the lucrative but highly volatile work in B2B and B2C markets. Blending the two extremes produces a stronger whole, not unlike mutual funds that balance stocks and bonds.

Many founders fail to explore DOD opportunities because they do not want to be seen as engaging in the business of war. We encountered a version of this at Sparta Science with colleagues who conflated our work to support federal employees with a full endorsement of all government policy.

Reality is more nuanced. The DOD has an annual budget of more than half a trillion dollars and a workforce of 2.8 million. Only a portion of these individuals are directly engaged in warfighting, and they rely on great numbers of administrators and knowledge professionals to accomplish each mission.

The DOD has approximately 1.3 million active contracts at any given moment, spanning fields as diverse as healthcare, apparel, logistics and software licensing. The military is rightly described as a cross-section of the United States, and supporting those who serve is a Silicon Valley tradition, good business practice and the right thing to do.

#column, #defense-contractors, #department-of-defense, #military, #opinion, #pentagon, #tc

GSA blocks senator from reviewing documents used to approve Zoom for government use

The General Services Administration has denied a senator’s request to review documents Zoom submitted to have its software approved for use in the federal government.

The denial was in response to a letter sent by Democratic senator Ron Wyden to the GSA in May, expressing concern that the agency cleared Zoom for use by federal agencies just weeks before a major security vulnerability was discovered in the app.

Wyden said the discovery of the bug raises “serious questions about the quality of FedRAMP’s audits.”

Zoom was approved to operate in government in April 2019 after receiving its FedRAMP authorization, a program operated by the GSA that ensures cloud services comply with a standardized set of security requirements designed to toughen the service from some of the most common threats. Without this authorization, federal agencies cannot use cloud products or technologies that are not cleared.

Months later, Zoom was forced to patch its Mac app after a security researcher found a flaw that could be abused to remotely switch on a user’s webcam without their permission. Apple was forced to intervene since users were still affected by the vulnerabilities even after uninstalling Zoom. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns were enforced, Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed — as did the scrutiny — including a technical analysis by reporters that found Zoom was not truly end-to-end encrypted as the company long claimed.

Wyden wrote to the GSA to say he found it “extremely concerning” that the security bugs were discovered after Zoom’s clearance. In the letter, the senator requested the documents known as the “security package,” which Zoom submitted as part of the FedRAMP authorization process, to understand how and why the app was cleared by GSA.

The GSA declined Wyden’s first request in July 2020 on the grounds that he was not a committee chair. In the new Biden administration, Wyden was named chair of the Senate Finance Committee and requested Zoom’s security package again.

But in a new letter sent to Wyden’s office late last month, GSA declined the request for the second time, citing security concerns.

“GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The security package you have requested contains highly sensitive proprietary and other confidential information relating to the security associated with the Zoom for Government product. Safeguarding this information is critical to maintaining the integrity of the offering and any government data it hosts,” said the GSA letter. “Based on our review, GSA believes that disclosure of the Zoom security package would create significant security risks.”

In response to the GSA’s letter, Wyden told TechCrunch that he was concerned that other flawed software may have been approved for use across the government.

“The intent of GSA’s FedRAMP program is good — to eliminate red tape so that multiple federal agencies don’t have to review the security of the same software. But it’s vitally important that whichever agency conducts the review do so thoroughly,” said Wyden. “I’m concerned that the government’s audit of Zoom missed serious cybersecurity flaws that were subsequently uncovered and exposed by security researchers. GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.”

Of the people we spoke with who have first-hand knowledge of the FedRAMP process, either as a government employee or as a company going through the certification, FedRAMP was described as a comprehensive but by no means an exhaustive list of checks that companies have to meet in order to meet the security requirements of the federal government.

Others said that the process had its limits and would benefit from reform. One person with knowledge of how FedRAMP works said the process was not a complete audit of a product’s source code but akin to a checklist of best practices and meeting compliance requirements. Much of it relies on trusting the vendor, said the person, describing it like ” an honor system.” Another person said the FedRAMP process cannot catch every bug, as evidenced by executive action taken by President Biden this week aimed at modernizing and improving the FedRAMP process.

Most of the people we spoke to weren’t surprised that Wyden’s office was denied the request, citing the sensitivity of a company’s FedRAMP security package.

The people said that companies going through the certification process have to provide highly technical details about the security of their product, which if exposed would almost certainly be damaging to the company. Knowing where security weaknesses might be could tip off cyber-criminals, one of the people said. Companies often spend millions on improving their security ahead of a FedRAMP audit but companies wouldn’t risk going through the certification if they thought their trade secrets would get leaked, they added.

When asked by GSA why it objected to Wyden’s request, Zoom’s head of U.S. government relations Lauren Belive argued that handing over the security package “would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine the special trust and confidence” that companies place in the FedRAMP process.

GSA puts strict controls on who can access a FedRAMP security package. You need a federal government or military email address, which the senator’s office has. But the reason for GSA denying Wyden’s request still isn’t clear, and when reached a GSA spokesperson would not explain how a member of Congress would obtain a company’s FedRAMP security package

“GSA values its relationship with Congress and will continue to work with Senator Wyden and our committees of jurisdiction to provide appropriate information regarding our programs and operations,” said GSA spokesperson Christina Wilkes, adding:

“GSA works closely with private sector partners to provide a standardized approach to security authorizations for cloud services through the [FedRAMP]. Zoom’s FedRAMP security package and related documents provide detailed information regarding the security measures associated with the Zoom for Government product. GSA’s consistent practice with regard to sensitive security and trade secret information is to withhold the material absent an official written request of a congressional committee with jurisdiction, and pursuant to controls on further dissemination or publication of the information.”

GSA wouldn’t say which congressional committee had jurisdiction or whether Wyden’s role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee suffices, nor would the agency answer questions about the efficacy of the FedRAMP process raised by Wyden.

Zoom spokesperson Kelsey Knight said that cloud companies like Zoom “provide proprietary and confidential information to GSA as part of the FedRAMP authorization process with the understanding that it will be used only for their use in making authorization decisions. While we do not believe Zoom’s FedRAMP security package should be disclosed outside of this narrow purpose, we welcome conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders about the security of Zoom for Government.”

Zoom said it has “engaged in security enhancements to continually improve its products,” and received FedRAMP reauthorization in 2020 and 2021 as part of its annual renewal. The company declined to say to what extent the Zoom app was audited as part of the FedRAMP process.

Over two dozen federal agencies use Zoom, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Executive Office of the President.

#apps, #biden, #biden-administration, #chair, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #congress, #department-of-defense, #executive, #federal-government, #fedramp, #government, #head, #internet, #internet-security, #official, #president, #ron-wyden, #security, #senator, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Pentagon kills Microsoft’s $10B JEDI cloud contract, says tech is now outdated

Pentagon kills Microsoft’s $10B JEDI cloud contract, says tech is now outdated

Enlarge (credit: US Department of Defense)

Following years of controversy and intrigue, the Pentagon canceled its JEDI cloud computing contract with Microsoft today.

Microsoft was awarded the contract in October 2019, but work stalled as Amazon, the other finalist, mounted a legal challenge. Now, the Department of Defense has scrapped the entire project, saying that it’s out of date.

“The Department has determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI Cloud contract no longer meets its needs,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.

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#amazon, #aws, #cloud-computing, #department-of-defense, #dod-jedi-contract, #microsoft-azure, #pentagon, #policy

Anduril raises $450M as the defense tech company’s valuation soars to $4.6B

The AI-powered defense company founded by tech iconoclast Palmer Luckey has landed a $450 million round of investment that values the startup at $4.6 billion just four years in.

In April, reports suggested that the company was on the hunt for fresh investment and headed for a valuation between four and five billion, up from $1.9 billion in July 2020.

The new Series D round was led by angel investor and serial entrepreneur Elad Gil, a former Twitter VP and Googler with a track record of investments in companies with exponential growth. Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, 8VC, General Catalyst, Lux Capital, Valor Equity Partners and D1 Capital Partners also participated in the round.

“Just as old incumbent institutions with little to no organizational renewal impacted our ability to respond to COVID, the defense industry has undergone significant consolidation over the last 30 years,” Gil wrote in a blog post on the investment. “There has not been a new defense technology company of any scale to directly challenge these incumbents in many decades…”

Anduril launched quietly in 2017 but grew quickly, picking up contracts with Customs and Border Protection and the Marine Corps during the Trump administration. Luckey, the young high-flying founder who sold Oculus to Facebook before being booted from the company, emerged as one of President Trump’s most prominent boosters in the generally Trump-averse tech industry.

The company makes defense hardware, including long-flying drones and surveillance towers that connect to a shared software platform it calls Lattice. The technology can be used to secure military bases, monitor borders and even knock enemy drones out of the sky, in the case of Anduril’s counter-UAS tech known as “Anvil.”

Anduril co-founder and CEO Brian Schimpf describes the company’s mission as one of “transformation,” pairing relatively affordable hardware with sensor fusion and machine learning technologies through a contract partner more nimble than established giants in the defense sector.

“This new round of funding reflects our confidence that the Department of Defense sees the same problems we do, and is serious about deploying emerging technologies at scale across land, sea, air, and space domains,” Schimpf said.

The company set its sights on work with the Department of Defense from its earliest days and last year was one of 50 vendors tapped by the DoD to test tech for the Air Force’s own piece of the Joint All-Domain Command & Control (JADC2) project, which seeks to build a smart warfare platform to connect all service members, devices and vehicles that power the U.S. military.

The company’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection also matured from a pilot into a program of record last year. Anduril supplies the agency with connected surveillance towers capable of autonomously monitoring stretches of the U.S. border.

In April, Anduril acquired Area-I, a company known for small drones that can be launched from a larger aircraft. Area-I counted the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and NASA among its customers, relationships that likely sweetened the deal.

#air-force, #andreessen-horowitz, #anduril, #artificial-intelligence, #brian-schimpf, #d1-capital-partners, #department-of-defense, #elad-gil, #founders-fund, #general-catalyst, #government, #lattice, #lux-capital, #palmer-luckey, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #trump-administration, #valor-equity-partners, #vp

Microsoft, US Army ink $21.9 billion deal to strap HoloLens onto personnel

A soldier raises a rifle from within a comically oversized headset.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Microsoft | Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the US Army formally moved forward with the largest ever government-related deal for headsets in the virtual and augmented reality sector: a 10-year agreement with Microsoft to provide 120,000 headsets “based” on the HoloLens line.

Reports by CNBC and Bloomberg point to a $21.9 billion value for this week’s updated arrangement, following its initial announcement in November 2018. Neither of those reports point to exact reasons for the deal’s jump from an initial contract value of $480 million, despite that earlier deal confirming similarly high headset numbers.

Official IVAS image as provided by Microsoft as part of Wednesday's announcements. Notice an array of sensors across the top, along with an apparent headset-strapping requirement for this model.

Official IVAS image as provided by Microsoft as part of Wednesday’s announcements. Notice an array of sensors across the top, along with an apparent headset-strapping requirement for this model. (credit: Microsoft)

The headset model in question, as revealed by Microsoft’s Alex Kipman in a Wednesday blog post, appears to deviate slightly from its originally announced intent. While it’s still known as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) and includes an array of HoloLens-like sensors, the model seen in today’s announcement appears to attach to a helmet. Ars previously reported that Microsoft and the US Army intended for this headset to not require mounting on a helmet, arguably to increase its applicability.

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#augmented-reality, #department-of-defense, #gaming-culture, #hololens, #microsoft, #pentagon, #policy, #virtual-reality

Microsoft gets contract worth up to $22 billion to outfit U.S. Army with 120,000 AR headsets

The killer use case for AR/VR might just be warfare.

Today, Microsoft announced that it’s won a contract to outfit the United States Army with tens of thousands of augmented reality headsets based on the company’s HoloLens tech. This contract could be worth as much as $21.88 billion over 10 years, the company says.

Microsoft will be fulfilling an order for 120,000 AR headsets for the Army based on their Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) design.

“The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios,”  a blog post from Microsoft’s Alex Kipman reads.

The contract builds on the two-year $480 million contract that Microsoft won back in 2018 to outfit the U.S. army with augmented reality tech. At the time, the contract detailed that the deal could potentially result in follow-on orders of more than 100,000 headsets. “Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement sent to TechCrunch at the time.

Microsoft says this announcement marks the transition from prototyping these designs to producing and rolling them out in the field.

This is a massive scale-up for augmented reality tech that has seen few large-scale rollouts and gives Microsoft a government contractor budget to tackle base technology problems that could scale down to consumer and enterprise-level devices in the future. Many of the industry’s biggest players in augmented reality have been reluctant or outspoken in their avoidance of military contracts but Microsoft has remained undeterred in competing for these contracts.

#army, #augmented-reality, #augmented-reality-technology, #computing, #contractor, #department-of-defense, #microsoft, #microsoft-hololens, #mixed-reality, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #windows-10

Relativity Space lands first Department of Defense launch contract

Relativity Space already has a significant volume of launch contracts on the books – more pre-sales for its Terran 1 rocket than any other launch vehicle in history, in fact, according to CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis. But its latest customer is a key one: The U.S. Department of Defense, which has contracted Relativity Space to launch a payload on its behalf as part of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)’s continued efforts to find responsive launch partners capable of sending payloads with a mass between 450 kg and 1,200 kg (roughly 1,000 to 2,650 lbs) to low-Earth orbit.

“It’s a bigger satellite, and there’s a much limited number of companies that can actually launch this spacecraft,” Ellis said in an interview. “[Terran 1’s] three meter payload fairing is unique, among all the US=based companies that can actually launch that payload size, we’re still the only one that actually has the fairing big enough for that scale.”

The DIU has a specific mandate of working with innovative American companies, typically in the earlier stages of their development, and their collaboration is often seen as a stamp of approval that can set up a company for a much deeper DoD relationship going forward. In this case, citing Relativity’s relative maturity and its queue of pre-sold missions, which include a number of non-defense government contracts.

“In this case, there was just a true mission need for this particular spacecraft,” Ellis said. “And it was a good opportunity to work with them as our first DoD customer, to start on-ramping into a broader ecosystem of capabilities that we’re hearing the government wants to see. So it’s all specifically focused on Terran 1, though of course, we now have talked about Terran R, totally independent of this program. It’s a start of a conversation, and we see lots of opportunities to help support national interests across many different places with all the things that we’re building.”

Ellis is referencing Relativity’s newly-unveiled larger payload spacecraft, the Terran R. The 3D printing rocket company debuted its plans for the much larger launch vehicle in February, and it’s tailor-made for delivering satellite constellations to low-Earth orbit – a need that the DoD has expressed plenty of interest in, given its focus on satellite technologies that offer responsive, redundant capabilities to suit shifting needs.

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#aerospace, #department-of-defense, #falcon-heavy, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #relativity-space, #satellite-constellations, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #tim-ellis, #united-states

Tetrate, the company born out of Istio’s open source app networking project, raises $40 million

Tetrate, the company commercializing an open source networking project that allows for easier data sharing across different applications, has raised $40 million.

The round, led by Sapphire Ventures underscores the importance of the Istio project and just how critical services that facilitate cross-platform data sharing have become.

Sapphire was joined by other new investors including Scale Venture Partners and NTTVC, along with existing investors, Dell Technologies Capital, Intel Capital, 8VC, and Samsung NEXT.

The company said it would use the cash to further develop its hybrid cloud application networking platform and support a new product, based on Istio, that makes the application service mesh easier to use, according to a statement from the company. Geographic expansion to Latin America, Europe and Asia is also on the menu now that it has 40 million simoleons to play around with (personally I’d have converted all that money into bills and gone swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck).

“As the microservices revolution picks up steam, it’s indispensable to use Istio for managing applications built with microservices and deployed on containers. Both the product and background of the founding team lead us to believe that Tetrate is poised to bring Istio into the mainstream for enterprises by making it easy to manage and deploy on multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments,” said Jai Das, the partner, president and co-founder of Sapphire’s multi-billion dollar firm, who’s joining the Tetrate board. “The applications we use daily require a lot of work in the background, and Tetrate helps make that happen with its Istio-based service mesh technology, which helps route traffic between microservices, add visibility and enhance security.”

Founded in 2018, Tetrate formally launched in 2019 with a $12.5 million round that boosted the company’s profile and helped the company commercialize and professionalize services around the Istio and Envoy Proxy open source projects.

Tons of really big customers, including the U.S. Department of Defense use Tetrate’s services currently. In the military, Tetrate powers the DevSecOps platform called Platform One.

“We partnered with Tetrate to help secure and smoothly operate Platform One with Istio. Platform One works with the most critical systems across the DoD. The Tetrate team has provided world class expertise, trained our team members, reviewed our platform architecture and configurations, and helped with debugging and upgrades,” said Nicolas Chaillan, the chief software officer for the US Air Force, in a statement. “We’re getting excellent production support for running our platform smoothly and we rely on them and their platform for a critical layer of our stack.”

#asia, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #dell-technologies-capital, #department-of-defense, #envoy, #europe, #intel-capital, #jai-das, #latin-america, #microservices, #proxy, #samsung, #sap, #sapphire-ventures, #scale-venture-partners, #tc, #technology, #tetrate, #us-air-force

ExOne gets $1.6M DoD contract to build a 3D printing ‘factory’ in shipping container

ExOne this week announced that the U.S. Department of Defense has granted it $1.6 million. It’s one of the Pennsylvania-based metal 3D printing company’s largest government contracts, in service of building a portable 3D printing factory for the front line – essentially a method for troops to fabricate broken and missing parts where the need them the most.

“Over the last two years, we’ve really focused on providing our technology into government-type applications: DoD, NASA, DoE,” CEO John Hartner tells TechCrunch. “Sometimes people talk about disrupting the supply chain and getting decentralized manufacturing. This is decentralized and forward deployed, if you will. Be it an emergency, humanitarian mission or frontlines for a war fighter.”

The money from the grant will specifically go toward R&D and building the first unit.

The system combines a series of machines with a software layer designed to lower the barrier of entry for use. While some training will be required, the hope is that people will be able to operate the system in the field.

“We’ve ruggedized the products that are going inside,” says Hartner. “There’s an element of software that makes the whole thing easier to use together. You start with scanning. So, there’s a possibility that you print from a cloud-based repository, but that may not be available for whatever reason, so you may have a broken part that you can scan and do some digital repair to the file and print.”

The devices rely on binder jet printing, the core tech behind ExOne’s machines. The system essentially composites powder, layer by layer to build up an object. ExOne expects to deliver the first system by Q3 2022. If all goes well, the parties will discuss further partnerships going forward.

#3d-printer, #3d-printing, #department-of-defense, #dod, #hardware

Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More

Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”


#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

Virgin Orbit will launch first Dutch defense satellite in mission that will demo rapid response capabilities

Virgin Orbit isn’t slowing down after joining the exclusive club of small launch companies that have made it to orbit – the company just announced that it’s flying a payload on behalf of customer the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF). This is the first ever satellite being put up by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, and it’s a small satellite that will act as a test platform for a number of different communications experiments.

The satellite is called ‘BRIK-II’ – not because it’s the second of its kind, but rather because it’s named after Brik, the first airplane ever owned and operated by the RNAF. This mission is one of Virgin Orbit’s first commercial operations after its successful test demonstration, and will fly sometime later this year. It’s also being planned as a rideshare mission, with other payloads expected to join – likely from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is working with Virgin Orbit’s dedicated U.S. defense industry subsidiary VOX Space on planning what they’ll be adding to the mission load out.

This upcoming mission is actually a key demonstration of a number of Virgin Orbit’s unique advantages in the launch market. For one, it’ll show how the U.S. DOD and its ally defense agencies can work together in the space domain when launching small communications satellites. Virgin Orbit is also going to use the mission as an opportunity to show off its “late-load integration” capabilities – effectively, how it can add a payload to its LauncherOne rocket just prior to launch.

For this particular flight, there’s no real reason to do a late-load integration, since there’s plenty of lead time, but part of Virgin’s appeal is being able to nimbly add satellites to its rocket just before the carrier jet that flies it to its take-off altitude leaves the runway. Demonstrating that will go a long way to help illustrate how it differentiates its services from others in the launch market including Rocket Lab and SpaceX.

#aerospace, #communications-satellites, #department-of-defense, #launcherone, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #virgin-galactic, #virgin-orbit, #vox-space

2020 will change the way we look at robotics

Earlier this month, Hyundai acquired a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics that valued the company at $1.1 billion. What’s most interesting about the news isn’t the acquisition itself (it does, after all, find Boston Dynamics switching hands for the third time in seven years), but rather what the company’s evolution tells us about the state of robotics in 2020.

When the Waltham, Massachusetts-based startup was acquired by Google in 2013, it was still a carefully cultivated mystery. That the internet’s response to the company was largely one of curiosity shaded with discomfort should come as little surprise. Boston Dynamics’ primary output from a public relations perspective was viral videos of impressive but imposing quadrupedal robots built with the aid of defense department contracts. It doesn’t take a giant leap to begin coloring in the gaps with dystopian sentiment.

In instances where robotic deployment has been successful, the technology has helped ease the burden on an impacted workforce.

Some of that has continued to follow the company, of course. Even in the age of short attention spans, one doesn’t quickly forget an image of a man in a fleece vest unsuccessfully attempting to kick over a headless buzzing robot in an empty parking lot. Heck, to this day every post I do about the company is greeted with multiple gifs of the knife-wielding robot from the “Metalhead” episode of “Black Mirror.”

While the company is still committed to its more bleeding edge R&D concepts, Hyundai didn’t purchase a strange little MIT-spinoff that makes viral internet videos. It purchased a company actively working to monetize those efforts. As CEO Robert Playter told me in a recent interview, the company has sold 400 Spots since opening initial availability around 15 months ago. It’s not a huge number, but it’s a sign that interest in the company’s products extend well beyond novelty.

Spot’s primary task at the moment involves surveying dangerous workplaces, from nuclear reactors to oil rigs. Boston Dynamics’ next product, Handle, will move boxes around a warehouse. That robot is set to go on sale at some point in 2022. “I think something like a robot every couple of years is a pace that we could manage,” Playter told me. “From clean sheet, we can build a new robot in under a year. “And then you have to go through an iterative process of refining that concept and starting to understand market fit.”

Maturity in this industry requires a level of pragmatism. Tasked with describing the state of robotics in 2020, I would probably say it’s something like, “Cool technology employed for uncool tasks.” You can, no doubt, identify exceptions (making special effects for movies like Bot & Dolly is decidedly cool), but on the whole, Boston Dynamics is a perfect example of impressive robots doing boring stuff. Any roboticist will happily hammer into you the concept of the three Ds — the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs where the technology is most likely to be deployed.

#boston-dynamics, #cainiao, #department-of-defense, #ecommerce, #hyundai, #medical-robot, #mobile-robot, #robotics, #telemedicine

New stimulus bill includes $35.2 billion for new energy initiatives

The new economic stimulus proposal that has been approved by Congress includes roughly $35.2 billion for energy initiatives, according to summary documents seen by TechCrunch.

“This is probably the biggest energy bill we’ve seen in a decade,” said policy analyst Dr. Leah Stokes, an Assistant Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  

The spending is split between the Energy Act of 2020 and the Energy for the Environment Act, and both include new money for big technology initiatives.

“[The Energy Act of 2020] is a bipartisan, bicameral energy innovation package that authorizes over $35 billion in RD&D activities across DOE’s portfolio and strengthens or creates programs crucial to advancing new technologies into the market,” a summary document for the legislation reads.

Included in the spending package is over $4.1 billion for new technology initiatives.

The biggest winners are photovoltaics, new transportation technologies, and energy efficiency technologies.

There’s a $1.5 billion for new solar technologies including modules, concentrating solar technology, new photovoltaic technologies and initiatives to expand solar manufacturing and recycling technologies. And $2.6 billion set aside for transportation technologies. Finally, energy efficiency and weatherization programs are continuing to be supported through a $1.7 billion reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program. 

Energy grid technologies get a $3.44 billion boost through $1.08 billion in support for short-term, long-term, seasonal and transportation energy storage technologies and $2.36 billion for smart utility and energy distribution technologies. 

Another $625 million is dedicated to new research, development and commercialization for both onshore and offshore wind technologies. While $850 million is being set aside for geothermal technology development and $933 million for marine energy and hydropower tech. finally, there’s $160 million earmarked for hydropower generator upgrades, and upgrades to existing federal infrastructure through $180 million earmarked to the Federal Energy Management Program. 

In an attempt to ensure that the money and innovation is used in the industries where decarbonization is the most technically challenging, there’s a $500 million pot for stakeholders in industries like iron, steel, aluminum, cement and chemicals as well as transportation businesses like shipping, avaiation, and long-distance transport that are looking to decarbonize.

By making these critical investments now, the Energy Act of 2020 will to help reduce our  nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, bring good paying jobs back to the United States, and allow us to export these technologies to growing markets abroad for years to come,” the summary report reads. 

If the next generation of technologies that already have broad commercial support is one area getting a boost, then another big pool of money is going to support the commercialization of technologies whose viability has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale.

These include carbon capture utilization and storage technologies that are getting a $6.2 billion boost for roll out at industrial and energy sites. Congress is also approving a $447 milion research and development program for large-scale commercial carbon dioxide removal projects — with a $100 million carve out grant for direct air capture competition at facilities that capture at least 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Nuclear technologies are also getting their day in the sun thanks to $6.6 billion in funding for the modernization of existing nuclear power plants and the development of advanced reactors. And, the nascent fusion industry can add another $4.7 billion to their calculus for available capital thanks to a carve out for basic and applied research investments.

All of this spending also comes with money to ensure that emerging technologies aren’t left out. Theres a $2.9 billion allocation to ARPA-E, the energy advanced research arm of the government whose structure is similar to the DARPA program that was responsible for the development of the Internet. And, taking a page from the NASA playbook that commercialized a number of technologies, the Office of Technology Transitions, which promotes national lab partnerships, is being codified and supporting the kind of milestone-based projects that have been effectively used by the Air Force and the Department of Defense broadly.

To cap it off, the new energy bill includes a directive to the Department of the Interior to target the generation of 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands by 2025.

“My understanding of it is that they’re trying to look at what the federal government has done for solar and wind and see how we can do that for other technologies,” Stokes said. 

For her, what’s in other portions of the stimulus are equally important from a climate perspective. There’s a commitment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a huge contributor to global warming and climate change by 2035. Phasing out the use of these chemicals globally in refrigeration and other applications could reduce warming by half a degree centigrade (which is a big deal).

Stokes took issue with the duration of some of the tax credits, whose extensions were relatively short, and the absence of a tax credit for electric vehicles. “The tax credits for EVs are a consumer-facing benefit that are absolutely critical to adoption,” Stokes said. “That was a massive equalizer between EVs and combustion engine cars.”

For all of the good news for climate activists baked into this portion of the stimulus, Stokes warns that no one concerned about global climate change should break out the bubbly.

“This package is not going to solve the climate crisis full-stop,” Stokes said. “Next year if the republicans are in control there’s going to be a new chairman and he’s not going to be as generous… We have to learn to celebrate the wins and give credit but recognize what’s missing. Which is a lot.”

#air-force, #aluminum, #arpa-e, #articles, #california, #chairman, #chemicals, #congress, #department-of-defense, #energy, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #iron, #solar-manufacturing, #steel, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-california

The US wants startups to get a piece of the $16 billion spent on space tech

The U.S. government is one of the biggest spenders in the nascent space industry and the man who handles the money for the Air Force’s $16 billion checkbook wants startups to know that his door is open for them.

In all, Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, handles about $60 billion worth of budget for the Air Force — a mandate that includes spending money on the new tech initiatives the Air Force deems important.

Historically, the Department of Defense hasn’t been the greatest at working with startups — and many tech companies have been loath to work with the DoD. However, since much of modern civilian infrastructure is based on global positioning systems and other satellite technologies that fall under the Defense Department’s purview, those views on cooperation are changing on both sides.

“Space isn’t a quiet domain of communication and navigation and exploration anymore,” Roper told the audience at TechCrunch’s latest Sessions event, TC Sessions: Space 2020. “It’s increasingly becoming a hostile place… So we’re gearing up a new kind of competition the military side that could extend to space and that’s creating a lot of new space programs.”

Roper emphasized that the interest from the Air Force and the government more broadly extends well beyond offensive capabilities and military priorities. As space becomes an economic opportunity, Roper sees the Air Force as an engine for driving technology development forward in ways that have commercial benefits.

“It’s a great, great time for innovation in new technologies that could help the military, but we want to do more than just help the military. That’s the old thinking in the Pentagon . That’s all that would help us win the Cold War in the 20th Century, but it’s not going to help us in the 21st, where technology is globalized and accelerating,” Roper said.

“We want to find ways where our military mission and our funding can help accelerate commercial markets to so it’s competing on a much bigger stage. But we think it’s where we need to aspire to be, so that we’re playing the right catalyst role in this nation and with our partners around the world,” Roper said.

There are several programs that startups can tap to get those Federal dollars. Two of the easiest points of entry are through the AFWERX and its recently announced SpaceWERX arm focused entirely on space technology.

“These look like any tech company,” Roper told the audience at the TechCrunch event. “They’re outside our fence lines. They’re easy to walk into… Now you don’t have to know the mission, we will help you find the mission and the customer — the warfighter associated with it. It’s a great model because it keeps the company focuse don what they know best, which is their tech.”

Over the last three years, Roper estimated that the AFWERX program had brought 2300 companies into the Air Force and Space Force programs and most of them had never worked with the military before, he said.

Within AFWERX there are three programs that particularly relate to integrating startups into the procurement process, Roper said. One is the Spark program, which pairs military with private industry; one is the AFVentures program, which is designed to finance new innovations coming from private industry; and finally there’s the Prime program, which helps commercialize and certify technologies.

Roper pointed to the recent certification the Air Force gave to Joby Aviation for its flying cars. “So there’s a new military market that will hopefully generate a new commercial market,” Roper said.

In 2021, the Prime program will expand to space technologies, according to Roper.

As the demand for new tech grows, there’s no shortage of innovations Roper would like to see from private industry. From new autonomous innovations that could help co-pilot spacecraft to technology for refueling and in-space maneuverability, and reusable equipment from boosters to other components that can bring costs down.

Roper also acknowledged that the Pentagon has a long way to go to “hack the acquisition system” when it comes to dual use technologies.

Entrepreneurs have pointed out that one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of the commercial space industry has been the inability of the US government to open up the technology for use by private industry.

Roper hopes to change that. “We want to use our military dollars, our mission, and potentially our certifications to help get you there without changing your core product,” he said. “If you succeed as a commercial success, then then we succeed as well, because now we’ve got a great tech partner, that hopefully we can continue to come to to solve problems in future. The thing that we’ll want to understand early on is how our military market and all those benefits I just mentioned, how can they help you get to commercial success? And what is it that we not need to do to pull you off that trajectory?”

Contracts with AFWERX are fixed price and progress as companies hit certain milestones on the product roadmap. These orders increase incrementally as the technology proves itself, so a contract could start with the delivery of a prototype, then experimental usage, then a commercial contract, then broad adoption. “What we’re looking to do is see if you can move the ball forward on your technology, and if you do, then we do another contract. We step you up our process,” Roper said.

Roper sees the project as nothing less than the evolution of the aerospace and defense industry.

“We have a lot of amazing companies today that helped build stealth bombers and space planes and all sorts of awesome stuff. They’re defense companies and we still need them,” Roper said. “What we’re hoping to help build in this century is a set fo new companies that are just tech companies. They’re not defense, purely, and they’re not commercial purely. They’re just technology companies and they do a bit of business on both sides.”

#aerospace, #air-force, #department-of-defense, #military, #pentagon, #space-force, #space-technology, #tc, #tc-sessions-space-2020, #technology, #technology-development, #u-s-government, #united-states, #will-roper

Lockheed Martin acquires rocket engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne for $4.4Bn as Space heats up

Lockheed Martin (LM), the US’s largest defence contractor will acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR), a rocket engine and missile manufacturer, for $4.4 billion including debt and net cash, giving the company a larger stake in space and hypersonic technology. The move comes amid the context of increasing competition in the Space and Defence industries.

In a news release, the company said the proposed acquisition adds substantial expertise in propulsion to Lockheed Martin’s portfolio and that Aerojet Rocketdyne’s technologies were already ‘key components’ of Lockheed’s supply chain. It already uses Aerojet Rocketdyne’s propulsion systems in its aeronautics, missiles and fire control offerings.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 2019 revenues were approximately $2 billion. The company, headquartered in El Segundo, California, has nearly 5,000 employees and was formed in 2013 when GenCorp’s Aerojet and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne were merged. The company produces solid rocket motors as well as tactical and strategic missiles for the Defense Department.

AR makes the RL10 rocket engine that powers the upper stage of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5 launch vehicles, and also produces the RS-25 engines for NASA’s Space Launch System.

The company’s move comes as it attempts to increase its propulsion capabilities to compete with new entrants such as SpaceX and Blue Origin for space contracts with the U.S. government. Meanwhile, rival Raytheon Co. is preparing to combine with United Technologies Corp to create an aerospace-and-defense giant.

Lockheed CEO James Taiclet said in a statement: “Acquiring Aerojet Rocketdyne will preserve and strengthen an essential component of the domestic defense industrial base and reduce costs for our customers and the American taxpayer.”

Aerojet’s CEO Eileen Drake said: “As part of Lockheed Martin, we will bring our advanced technologies together with their substantial expertise and resources to accelerate our shared purpose: enabling the defense of our nation and space exploration.”

The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2021 but will be subject to the usual requirement for approvals by regulators and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s stockholders.

#aerojet-rocketdyne, #blue-origin, #california, #ceo, #companies, #delta, #department-of-defense, #lockheed-martin, #space, #spacex, #supply-chain, #tc, #u-s-government, #united-launch-alliance, #united-states

Voyager Space Holdings to acquire multi-launch site startup The Launch Company

Voyager Space Holdings, one of the companies that has been on a bit of an acquisitive spree recently as it looks to put together a comprehensive and multi-vertical space technology offering, has announced that it intends to acquire The Launch Company, an Anchorage-based startup that is focused on “streamlining the launch process,” with the ultimate aim of building a launch site capable of playing host to multiple users for quick turnaround between launches from different providers.

Already, The Launch Company has worked with a number of companies in the new space sector, including Firefly, Relativity, and Virgin Orbit. It’s been involved in the DARPA launch challenge, which was designed to kickstart the development of mobile and responsive multi-vehicle launch capabilities. The company’s focus on flexible and responsive launch services is in high demand not only in the emerging commercial space industry, but also for deep-pocketed and consistent clients like the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.

Voyager has been focusing on assembling holdings that allow it to provide clients across the space industry with more vertical integration throughout the process of designing and launching a mission. They acquired Pioneer Technologies earlier this year, which is working with NASA on Artemis program elements, and also acquired Altius Space Machines, a satellite interface, servicing and design company last year.

#aerospace, #anchorage, #artemis-program, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #department-of-defense, #ma, #nasa, #orion, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #voyager-space-holdings

How is the Air Force looking to spend its $60 billion R&D budget?

Dr. Will Roper, the man in charge of the purse strings for the Air Force’s $60 billion research and development and acquisition budget, oversees some 550 programs for the Air Force.

It’s a huge responsibility that has massive implications for the future of the American military, and as the priorities for the military’s air and space command shift, Roper says that acquisitions will require an emphasis on working “at a pace that today’s technology, trends and threats require.”

The keys to the future of Air Force acquisitions will be agility and flexibility, Roper told an audience last month at the Air Force Association 2020 Virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference, according to an Air Force report. “If you look at the world in which we live today, we must be agile,” Roper told the audience. “There are too many possible futures for us to pick one and build a force that’s geared to defeat it.”

That sentiment should give developers of new technologies $60 billion worth of reasons to pay attention when Roper joins us at TechCrunch’s Sessions: Space event this December 16-17.

Roper has placed an emphasis on what he calls digital engineering to create internal manufacturing capabilities within the Department of Defense and develop new defensive capabilities and offensive weaponry for a 21st century battlefield.

As the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics — and principal adviser to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force for R&D, test, production and modernization efforts within the Air Force — Roper has a view into where the military is racing ahead to meet the challenges of the battlefield of the next millennium.

In Roper’s view that could encompass the presence of weaponized artificial intelligence, persistent drones, or even genetically edited bioweapons or human augmentation, he told his virtual audience in that September presentation.

For Roper, the first order of business is to find a way to get the military innovating faster than consumer technologies — a task made that much more complicated by the lack of bureaucratic constraints private companies enjoy compared to their military counterparts.

“The last area that we have to have strategic agility is in being able to computerize or virtualize everything about our development and production, assembly, even sustainment of systems, so that we can finally get past the tyranny of the real world and take learning and feedback into the digital one,” Roper said in his September address.

The Air Force is already turning to digital-first design with its eSeries of hardware, which has already notched a huge win with the design, assemblage and testing of its Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft — designed to replace the FA-18 Hornet.

Roper comes to his position in the Air Force after what has already been a long and storied career in the military. He previously served as the founding director in the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. First created in 2012, the SCO was designed to imagine new applications for existing government and commercial systems. During his tenure, Roper. grew the budget of the SCO from $50 million to $1.5 billion.

Under the program Roper developed new concepts like hypervelocity artillery, multi-purpose missiles, autonomous fast-boats, smartphone-navigating weapons, big-data-enabled sensing, 3-D printed systems, fighter avatars, and fighter-dispersed swarming micro-drones.

The breadth of Roper’s vision about the capabilities that the U.S. will need to compete in a 21st century combat scenario will likely be one of the subjects we discuss — as well as the role Roper sees for startups in developing those technologies.

Those contributions could come through participation in programs like AFVentures, which paid out nearly $800 million to companies for programs like the Air Force’s flying car program, as well as the nation’s space launch program.

“This is how we provide our forces the capabilities they’ll need to win on the unpredictable, rapidly evolving innovation battlefield in this century by fundamentally changing how we build and acquire systems and with whom we build them, so that no matter what our adversaries do in the future, we will have the agility to overmatch and win,” Roper told his audience in September. “Then we will innovate faster, we will adapt quicker and ultimately stay ahead to disrupt and win.”

To hear Roper’s thoughts on the future of the Air Force’s technological innovations, you can grab a ticket to get exclusive access to watch this session (along with many others) live (with access to video on demand), network with the innovators changing the space industry, discover the hottest early-stage companies, learn how to score grants for your space company, recruit talent or even find a job.

Get an early-bird ticket for just $125 until November 13. And we have discounts available for groupsstudentsactive military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup some extra visibility.

#3-d, #aerospace, #air-force, #department-of-defense, #electrical-engineering, #government, #science-and-technology, #space, #tc, #tc-sessions-space-2020, #technologies, #technology, #united-states

SITREP: With “Skyborg,” Air Force hopes to give pilots a “loyal wingman”

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This summer, the US Air Force awarded contracts to four companies to develop prototypes for the Skyborg Program, the Air Force’s effort to provide relatively inexpensive autonomous uncrewed combat aircraft to serve as robotic wingmen to human-piloted F-22 and F-35 fighters. Skyborg is one of three Vanguard initiatives—programs intended to stretch the Air Force’s capabilities with disruptive new technologies.

The US military has been talking about so-called “loyal wingman” drones for close to a decade. The Navy had its own carrier-based drone effort, which after successes in early testing morphed into a robotic refueling tanker program. But most of the US combat drone efforts have focused on providing slower, longer-flying propeller-powered drones for the least-sexy jobs in the air: surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeted air support. And the stars of that show, the General Atomics Predator and its larger Reaper sibling, are flown from a distance by human pilots communicating with ground and air forces.

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#air-force, #ars-technica-video, #ars-technica-videos, #biz-it, #department-of-defense, #dod, #f-22, #f-35, #milsec, #policy, #sitrep, #skyborg, #video

Anduril among companies tapped to build the Air Force’s ‘internet of things’ for war

Palmer Luckey’s young defense company has been selected by the Air Force for work on a cutting-edge, multibillion dollar nervous system for war. Luckey announced the news that Anduril was one of the selected vendors for the project, known as the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), on his Twitter account Thursday.

Over the last four months, the Air Force named more than 50 different vendors who would work on developing the system, giving each the chance to receive from $1,000 to $950 million over the next five years. Amazon Web Services was also selected in the fresh round vendors, along with 16 other lesser known companies.

The vendor list includes a number of companies that aren’t the usual suspects in Department of Defense work, reflecting the “innovative acquisition strategy” intended to accelerate the timeline for the ambitious system.

As a three-year-old startup founded by the controversial Trump-booster who created Oculus, ushered in the dawn of consumer VR, and was eventually fired from Facebook, Anduril fits the bill.

“The goal of ABMS is to enable the Air Force and Space Force to operate together and as part of a joint team – connecting sensors, decision makers and weapons through a secure data network enabling rapid decision making and all-domain command and control,” according to an Air Force press release.

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper previously said that the ABMS competition would bring in “fresh blood,” particularly commercially-focused companies “that know a lot about data, that know a lot about machine learning and [artificial intelligence] and know a lot about analytics.”

Anduril has already picked up a surprising amount of federal work in its short lifespan. In June the Trump administration awarded Anduril with a contract to build a so-called virtual border wall comprised of its drones, sensor towers and AI software system — an opportunity that the company seemed custom-built for from its launch.

The ABMS project will ultimately fit into the Defense Department’s work on a system known as Joint All-Domain Command & Control or JADC2, a kind of meta software platform for warfare that connects all humans, devices, and equipment across the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber and even the electromagnetic spectrum.

Per Luckey’s tweet, Anduril’s new contract is “for the maturation, demonstration and proliferation of capability across platforms and domains, leveraging open systems design, modern software and algorithm development in order to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).”

“It aims to link every ship, soldier, and jet, so that ground, air, sea, space, and cyber assets can share the exact same data and can be used almost interchangeably to take out targets, even in environments where communication is being heavily jammed or where adversaries have advanced air defenses,” Defense One explained in a piece on the project.

Working with the Department of Defense has been Anduril’s endgame from day one. The company opened that door through key hires, picking up contracts with Customs and Border Protection and the Marine Corps, and building out its small-scale proof of concept: a modular web of hardware and software that could talk to itself and operate autonomously.

Just months after launching in 2017, TechCrunch reported that Anduril was interested in “real-time battlefield awareness for soldiers on the ground and headquarters alike,” which sounds quite a bit like the company’s exploratory new defense work.


#air-force, #anduril, #department-of-defense, #tc, #trump-administration

Anduril launches a smarter drone and picks up more money to build a virtual border wall

The company building the virtual border wall has a new version of its stealthy fast-flying drones — and a fresh contract with Customs and Border Protection to match. Anduril, a young defense-friendly tech company from the founder of Oculus, received $36 million from Customs and Border Protection this month for its AI-powered autonomous surveillance towers.

Anduril has flourished over the course of its short Trump-era lifespan, attracting surprising interest from defense agencies considering that the company has only existed for three years. In July, CBP awarded Anduril $25 million for a previous set of surveillance towers. The agency plans to implement 200 towers by 2022 in an ongoing relationship with the contractor worth more than $200 million.

The unusual company is iterating on its hardware innovations quickly, which makes sense for a company founded by Palmer Luckey, the controversial figure who spearheaded consumer VR through Oculus. Luckey, a big Trump booster in tech, attracted plenty of talent from the now Facebook-owned VR company when he struck out with his new venture. The company has also collected a number of former employees from Peter Thiel-founded Palantir, which grew its own federal contract business and is in the process of going public.

While the company kept completely quiet in its early launch days, it’s opened up about its drone capabilities in particular over the last year. Anduril previously did a press push around the launch of a counter-UAS drone it calls “Anvil” that can identify a target and knock it out of the sky. (The company would prefer if you don’t call them “attack drones.”) Now, Anduril is launching the fourth iteration of its small, ultra-quiet “Ghost” drones, adding some key features.

Ghost drones are capable of staying aloft for long stretches and communicating what they sees to a central AI-powered nervous system. They combine data with Anduril’s sentry towers and any other hardware, relaying it back to the company’s Lattice software platform, which flags anything of interest. In the case of CBP, that looks like a system autonomously identifying someone crossing U.S. border and sending a push alert to border agents.

Ghost 4 is the latest version of the Ghost drone, boasting 100 minutes of flight time and a “near-silent acoustic signature” that makes it difficult to detect. The Ghost 4 drones now apparently pack Anduril’s Lattice AI software on board, which allows them to operate and identify potential targets in spots with low connectivity or “contested” areas. The new version of the Ghost drone also allows one operator to command a group of Ghost drones to form a swarm, collecting data across many devices.

According to the company, the Ghost 4 is designed for an array of mission types, including “aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cargo delivery, counter intrusion, signal intelligence and electronic warfare.” With the system’s modular, customizable design, Anduril continues to cast a wide net, though for now it’s mostly won contracts for perimeter and border surveillance.

The company began its work with CBP through pilot programs in Texas and San Diego starting in 2018. By the following year, Anduril had formalized its relationship on the U.S. southern border, with a number of its sentry towers operating in CBP’s San Diego sector, an order for more in Texas and a new pilot program testing a cold weather variation of its hardware at northern border sites in Montana and Vermont.

In July, Anduril announced that it had raised $200 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Thiel’s Founders Fund, bringing its valuation to around $2 billion three years in. “We founded Anduril because we believe there is value in Silicon Valley technology companies partnering with the Department of Defense,” Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf said at the time.

The Department of Defense was exploring use cases with a previous version of the Ghost drone, and it’s clear the company would like to expand that nascent business. It’s not that far off: Anduril landed a $13.5 million contract last year to surround Marine Corps bases in Arizona, Japan and Hawaii with a “virtual ‘digital fortress’” and has recruited talent specifically to liaise with the military. Now that the company’s work is established as a line item in the homeland security budget, the door is open for Anduril to seal the deal on even more lucrative defense work.

#anduril, #defense, #department-of-defense, #surveillance, #tc, #trump-administration

Pentagon’s review of controversial $10B contract was a sham, Amazon claims

Sprawling concrete building surrounded by enormous parking lot.

Enlarge / The Pentagon in its natural habitat—Arlington, Virginia—in 2018. (credit: Michael Brochstein | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

Amazon is continuing to fight the Department of Defense over a $10 billion contract, as the Pentagon has completed its review of the deal and determined once again that it was correct to award the entire project to Microsoft.

The DOD launched bidding for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project, a massive cloud-computing contract, in 2019. By April of that year, the shortlist was down to two finalists: Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. Amazon was widely considered the favorite, and many industry watchers expressed surprise when Microsoft ultimately landed the deal in October 2019.

Amazon filed suit, alleging that the decision was politically motivated and quoting President Donald Trump’s alleged intention to “screw Amazon.” In February of this year, a federal judge agreed to order an injunction on the deal pending the outcome of the case.

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#amazon, #biz-it, #contracts, #defense-department, #department-of-defense, #dod, #jedi, #microsoft, #pentagon, #policy

More evidence of increasing militarization of space as U.S. claims Russia satellite weapon test

The U.S. Space Command has released details about an alleged anti-satellite weapons test it suspects Russian of conducting using an existing probe already on orbit, The Verge reports. The Russian satellite in question is the same one that made headlines back at the beginning of 2020 when it seemed to be tailing an existing orbital U.S. spy satellite. That same spacecraft appears to have deployed some kind of projectile according to Space Command, which monitors objects currently in orbit around Earth.

General John Raymond of U.S. Space Command told the Verge that this represents “further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems,” and pursing a strategy that could but U.S. and allied in-space assets at risk.

The militarization of space isn’t new, and parties on all sides have been pursuing development of both offensive and defensive in-space weapons technologies. One of the biggest potential risks lies in weapons that, like this one in theory, could be deployed from satellites to destroy others – potentially disabling key ground communications, intelligence or observation space-based infrastructure that is used to support command and control operations on terrestrial battlegrounds and in the defense or observation of key military assets.

Russia isn’t the only global power unnerving the U.S. when it comes to the militarization of space: An April test by India saw that nation demonstrate a ground-to-orbit anti-satellite missile system, which NASA Administrator denied as being “not compatible with human spaceflight.” India is hardly the first country to demonstrate this kind of capability, however, as the U.S., China and Russian have all performed similar tests.

The growing risk of orbit-to-orbit offensive weapons has had a dramatic effect on how militaries including that of the U.S. has changed its priorities for in-space assets. For instance, the Department of Defense and other U.S. defense and intelligence agencies appear to be shifting focus away from the large, geosynchronous satellites that were massively costly and relatively unique upon which they used to rely, and towards smaller, more nimble satellites that might operate in low Earth orbit and consist of constellations with built-in redundancy. They’ve also been actively funding the development of commercial small-scale launcher startups, which can offer more response orbital launch services even than SpaceX and other existing providers.

While there are obviously many vocal detractors regarding the militarization of space, the fact remains that it’s an area where a number of global superpowers have spent billions, since the potential tactical advantage it provides is immense. Based on the increasing frequency and more public nature of tests like this one, it’s a segment where the U.S. in particular will be only too happy to look for support from the private sector, including technology startups, that can provide creative and advanced solutions.


#aerospace, #china, #department-of-defense, #india, #outer-space, #russia, #satellite, #space, #space-debris, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spy, #tc, #united-states, #weapons

Google Cloud launches Assured Workloads for Government, its version of a government cloud

Google Cloud today announced the private beta launch of Assured Workloads for Government, the company’s version of what some of its competitors would call their “government cloud.”

With Assured Workloads for Government, Google Cloud ensures that government agencies and their contractors can ensure that all data stays in its U.S. regions. Government agencies can also limit access to Google Cloud support personnel based on their citizenship, background check and geography.  Later this year, Google will also enable a new support option that ensures that these users will get access from a U.S. Person, in a U.S. location with a target response time of 15 minutes for P1 cases.

Google Cloud notes that its system is also designed to allow government customers and contractors to meet the standards of the Department of Defense, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) — all while giving them users access to its full portfolio of services.

The company specifically notes that while other clouds build separate government cloud, the result of this is often that “government agencies having to run on less feature-rich, fortressed versions of commercial clouds to meet their needs.” It’s worth noting that Microsoft recently built out two new regions specifically for allowing government agencies to handle classified data on Azure, in addition to its regular Azure Government data centers. Similarly, with its GovCloud, AWS has long offered similar capabilities in two government-specific U.S. regions. 

#amazon-web-services, #azure-government, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #department-of-defense, #fedramp, #google, #microsoft, #tc, #united-states

NY-based autonomous reusable rocket startup lands Air Force contract

New York-based startup iRocket has landed a contract award from the U.S. Air Force to develop and build its fully autonomous small payload rockets, which the company says will be able to launch and propulsively land both its first and second stages, with the potential of launching small payloads on demand in as little as 24 hours.

iRocket is one of a few different companies looking to provide quick turnaround, rapid-response launch capabilities to serve a growing need among defense customers, particularly in the U.S., for those services. U.S. defense agencies are seeking this specifically to help them send up small satellites in greater numbers, with greater frequency, in order to help provide redundancy and address specific needs as they arise.

The iRocket Shockwave launch vehicles are intended to carry a payload with maximum size of around 1,500 kg (around 3,300 lbs) and are best to take off from sites inlacing Spaceport Oklahoma and potentially Launch Complex 48 at Kennedyy Space Cetner in Cape Canaveral. Flexibility in terms of launch sites, including inland in the continental U.S., is another way they can support for flexibility and responsive operations for the Department of Defense and others.

iRocket plans to fly its first launch in just under three years’ time, with a plan to begin offering on-orbit satellite servicing as one of its products by 2025. It has a long way to go before that, but there’s definitely plenty of institutional interest in this from deep-pocketed government and defense customers.

#aerospace, #department-of-defense, #flight, #new-york, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #u-s-air-force, #united-states

Amazon Web Services launches a dedicated aerospace and satellite business

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is upping its space industry game with a dedicated business unit called Aerospace and Satellite Solutions (as first reported by the WSJ) that’s focused on space projects, including from customers like NASA, the U.S. military, and private space players including Lockheed Martin and others. AWS has already served satellite and space industry customers, including with its AWS Ground Station offering, which provides satellite communication and data processing as a service, helping customers bypass the need to set up their own dedicated ground stations when establishing their satellite networks and constellations.

The AWS segment will be led by retired Air Force Major General Glint Crosier, who was involved in the set up of the U.S. Space Force arm of the U.S. military. The choice of leadership is a good indicator of what the primary purpose of this unit will be: landing and serving large, lucrative customers mostly form the defense industry.

In a high-profile decision last year, AWS lost out on contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon with an estimated value of up to $10 billion, with Microsoft’s Azure taking the win. Amazon has formally challenged the decision, and the proceedings resulting from that challenge are ongoing. But the contract loss was likely a wake-up call at AWS that it would need to do more in order to bolster its pipeline for dedicated defense agency contracts.

Cloud computing services for satellite and in-space assets is a potentially massive business over the next few years for the defense industry, particularly in the U.S., where part of the strategy of the Space Force and Department of Defense is shifting away from a reliance on large, aging geostationary satellites, and towards more versatile, affordable and redundant networks of small satellites that can be launched frequently and in a responsive manner.

A primary focus on defense customers doesn’t mean startups and smaller new space ventures won’t benefit; in fact, they should be just as able to take advantage of the cost benefits that will accrue from Amazon dedicated more resources to serving this segment as bigger players. In fact, AWS Ground Station already serves smaller startups including Capella Space, which announced today that it would be using AWS for its satellite command and control, as well as for providing data from its imaging satellites to its customers much faster and cheaper than is usually possible for satellite providers.

This new focus could help further defray hard costs that any satellite startup must incur like ground station setup – a much-needed relief as the COVID-19 situation continues to impact startups’ ability to raise, especially in frontier tech areas like space.

#aerospace, #amazon, #aws, #capella-space, #cloud, #defense, #department-of-defense, #space, #space-force, #tc

Swarms of autonomous insect robots could prove key to future planetary exploration

While we’re preparing to launch a six-wheeled robotic rover roughly the size of a car to explore Mars, future planetary exploration and science missions could employ much smaller hardware — including, potentially, swarms of robots the size of insects designed to act in concert with one another autonomously.

Swarming insect-like robots are being developed by a number of different institutions and companies, but a researcher at California State University Northridge recently received a sizable Department of Defense grant specially to fund the development of autonomous robot swarms for extraterrestrial applications — as well as for use right here on Earth in mining, industrial and search and rescue efforts.

The grant, for $539,000, was awarded to CSUN mechanical engineering professor Nhut Ho, who also directs the NASA Autonomous Research Center for STEAMH (which focuses on collaborative research efforts between Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Mathematics and Humanities academics, hence the acronym). The goal of the research is to build robotic swarms that can essentially be dropped into unknown and hostile environments, and then figure out how to complete specific tasks they’re given without essentially any additional input.

Ultimately, such a swarm would be able to perform complex problem solving to deal with challenges, including organizing themselves into different-sized groups to handle different aspects of the task at hand, as well as dealing with setbacks, including losing individual members of the swarm through redundancy and repurposing.

One way the system will be tested is through use with a collaborating team from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that seeks to find the best solutions for autonomously navigating and mapping underground environments.

As for why this approach is even being considered, there are a lot of potential benefits of using a swarm of small rovers versus a single, large one. At a very basic level, there’s built-in redundancy — if a rover like NASA’s Perseverance encounters a fatal error, the mission is essentially done, while a swarm losing individual members shouldn’t end the entire mission. Also, a swarm can self-assemble into individual subunits and cover more ground more quickly, accomplishing a number of goals in parallel where a larger rover might have to handle tasks in sequence.

CSUN is working on its swarm project with partners, including JPL, as mentioned, as well as Boston Dynamics, Intel, Clearpath Robotics, Telerob, Veoldyne and Silvus Technologies. It could be a while before any insect bots actually set “foot” on the red planet, but this is definitely a strong sign of interest and support from large, deep-pocketed public funding sources.

#aerospace, #boston-dynamics, #clearpath-robotics, #department-of-defense, #emerging-technologies, #intel, #mining, #robot, #robotics, #science, #space, #tc