Max Q: SpaceX starts building out its production Starlink constellation

There’s literally a lot more stuff in space than there was last week – or at least, the number of active human-made satellites in Earth’s orbit has gone up quite a bit, thanks to the launch of SpaceX’s first 60 production Starlink satellites. This week also saw movement in other key areas of commercial space, and some continued activity in early-stage space startup ecosystem encouragement.

Some of the ‘New Space’ companies are flexing the advantages that are helping them shake up an industry typically reserved for just a few deep-pocketed defence contractors, and NASA is getting ready for planetary space exploration in more ways than one.

1. SpaceX launches 60 Starlink satellites

The 60 Starlink satellites that SpaceX launched this week are the first that aren’t specifically designated as tester vehicles, even though it launched a batch of 60 earlier this year, too. These ones will form the cornerstone of between 300-400 or so that will provide the first commercial service to customers in the U.S. and Canada next year, if everything goes to SpaceX’s plan for its new global broadband service.

Aside from being the building blocks for the company’s first direct-to-consumer product, this launch was also an opportunity for SpaceX to show just how far its come with reusability. It flew the company’s first recovered rocket fairing, for instance, and also used a Falcon 9 booster for the fourth time – and landed it, so that it can potentially use it on yet another mission in the future.

2. Rocket Lab’s new room-sized robot can don in 12-hours what used to take ‘hundreds’

Rocket Lab is aiming to providing increasingly high-frequency launch capabilities, and the company has a new robot to help it achieve very quick turnaround on rocket production: Rosie. Rosie the Robot can produce a launch vehicle about once every 12 hours – handling the key task of processing the company’s Electron carbon composite stages in a way that cuts what used to take hundreds of manual work hours into something that can be done twice a day.

3. SpaceX completes Crew Dragon static fire test

This is big because the last time SpaceX fired up the Crew Dragon’s crucial SuperDraco thrust system, it exploded and took the capsule with it. Now, the crew spacecraft can move on to the next step of demonstrating an in-flight abort (the emergency ‘cancel’ procedure that will let astronauts on board get out with their lives in the case of a post-launch, mid-flight emergency) and then it’s on to crewed tests.

4. Virgin Galactic’s first paying customers are doing their astronaut training

It’s not like they’ll have to get out and fix something in zero gravity or anything, but the rich few who have paid Virgin Galactic $250,000 per seat for a trip to space will still need to train before they go up. They’ve now begun doing just that, as Virgin looks to the first half of next year for its first commercial space tourism flights.

5. TechStars launches another space tech accelerator

They have a couple now, and this new one is done in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, along with allied government agencies in The Netherlands and Norway. This one doesn’t require that participants relocated to a central hub for the duration of the program, which should mean more global appeal.

6. NASA funds new Stingray-inspired biomimetic spacecraft

Bespin’s cloud cars were cool, but a more realistic way to navigate the upper atmosphere of a gaseous planet might actually be with robotic stingrays that really flap their ‘fins.’ Yes, actually.

7. Blue Origin’s lunar lander partner Draper talks blending old and new space companies

Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos announced a multi-partner team that will work on the company’s lunar lander, and its orbital delivery mechanism. A key ingredient there is longtime space industry experts Draper, which was born out of MIT and which is perhaps most famous for having developed the Apollo 11 guidance system. Draper will be developing the avionics and guidance systems for Blue Origin’s lunar lander, too, and Mike Butcher caught up with Draper CEO Ken Gabriel to discuss. (Extra Crunch subscription required)

Dutch court orders Facebook to ban celebrity crypto scam ads after another lawsuit

A Dutch court has ruled that Facebook can be required to use filter technologies to identify and pre-emptively take down fake ads linked to crypto currency scams that carry the image of a media personality, John de Mol, and other well known celebrities.

The Dutch celerity filed a lawsuit against Facebook in April over the misappropriation of his and other celebrities’ likeness to shill Bitcoin scams via fake ads run on its platform.

In an immediately enforceable preliminary judgement today the court has ordered Facebook to remove all offending ads within five days, and provide data on the accounts running them within a week.

Per the judgement, victims of the crypto scams had reported a total of €1.7 million (~$1.8M) in damages to the Dutch government at the time of the court summons.

The case is similar to a legal action instigated by UK consumer advice personality, Martin Lewis, last year, when he announced defamation proceedings against Facebook — also for misuse of his image in fake ads for crypto scams.

Lewis withdrew the suit at the start of this year after Facebook agreed to apply new measures to tackle the problem: Namely a scam ads report button. It also agreed to provide funding to a UK consumer advice organization to set up a scam advice service.

In the de Mol case the lawsuit was allowed to run its course — resulting in today’s preliminary judgement against Facebook. It’s not yet clear whether the company will appeal but in the wake of the ruling Facebook has said it will bring the scam ads report button to the Dutch market early next month.

In court, the platform giant sought to argue that it could not more proactively remove the Bitcoin scam ads containing celebrity images on the grounds that doing so would breach EU law against general monitoring conditions being placed on Internet platforms.

However the court rejected that argument, citing a recent ruling by Europe’s top court related to platform obligations to remove hate speech, also concluding that the specificity of the requested measures could not be classified as ‘general obligations of supervision’.

It also rejected arguments by Facebook’s lawyers that restricting the fake scam ads would be restricting the freedom of expression of a natural person, or the right to be freely informed — pointing out that the ‘expressions’ involved are aimed at commercial gain, as well as including fraudulent practices.

Facebook also sought to argue it is already doing all it can to identify and take down the fake scam ads — saying too that its screening processes are not perfect. But the court said there’s no requirement for 100% effectiveness for additional proactive measures to be ordered. Its ruling further notes a striking reduction in fake scam ads using de Mol’s image since the lawsuit was announced

Facebook’s argument that it’s just a neutral platform was also rejected, with the court pointing out that its core business is advertising.

It also took the view that requiring Facebook to apply technically complicated measures and extra effort, including in terms of manpower and costs, to more effectively remove offending scam ads is not unreasonable in this context.

The judgement orders Facebook to remove fake scam ads containing celebrity likenesses from Facebook and Instagram within five days of the order — with a penalty of €10k per day that Facebook fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum of €1M (~$1.1M).

The court order also requires that Facebook provides data to the affected celebrity on the accounts that had been misusing their likeness within seven days of the judgement, with a further penalty of €1k per day for failure to comply, up to a maximum of €100k.

Facebook has also been ordered to pay the case costs.

Responding to the judgement in a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We have just received the ruling and will now look at its implications. We will consider all legal actions, including appeal. Importantly, this ruling does not change our commitment to fighting these types of ads. We cannot stress enough that these types of ads have absolutely no place on Facebook and we remove them when we find them. We take this very seriously and will therefore make our scam ads reporting form available in the Netherlands in early December. This is an additional way to get feedback from people, which in turn helps train our machine learning models. It is in our interest to protect our users from fraudsters and when we find violators we will take action to stop their activity, up to and including taking legal action against them in court.

One legal expert describes the judgement as “pivotal“. Law professor Mireille Hildebrandt told us that it provides for as an alternative legal route for Facebook users to litigate and pursue collective enforcement of European personal data rights. Rather than suing for damages — which entails a high burden of proof.

Injunctions are faster and more effective, Hildebrandt added.

The judgement also raises questions around the burden of proof for demonstrating Facebook has removed scam ads with sufficient (increased) accuracy; and what specific additional measures it might deploy to improve its takedown rate.

Although the introduction of the ‘report scam ad button’ does provide one clear avenue for measuring takedown performance.

The button was finally rolled out to the UK market in July. And while Facebook has talked since the start of this year about ‘envisaging’ introducing it in other markets it hasn’t exactly been proactive in doing so — up til now, with this court order. 

Disney+ comes to Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, will support nearly all major platforms at launch

Disney+ will have an international launch that begins at the same time as its rollout in the U.S., Disney revealed. The company will be launching its digital streaming service on November 12 in Canada and The Netherlands on November 12, and will be coming to Australia and New Zealand the following week. The streaming service will also support virtually every device and operating system from day one.

Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku, and Xbox One at launch, which is pretty much an exhaustive list of everywhere someone might want to watch it, leaving aside some smaller proprietary smart TV systems. That, combined with the day-and-date global markets, should be a clear indicator that Disney wants its service to be available to as many customers as possible, as quickly as possible.

Through Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, customers will be able to subscribe via in-app purchase. Disney+ will also be fully integrated with Apple’s TV app, which is getting an update in iOS 13 in hopes of becoming even more useful as a central hub for all a user’s video content. The one notable exception on the list of supported devices and platforms is Amazon’s Fire TV, which could change closer to launch depending on negotiations.

In terms of pricing, the service will run $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year in Canada, and €6.99 per month (or €69.99 per year) in the Netherlands. In Australia, it’ll be $8.99 per month or $89.99 per year, and in New Zealand, it’ll be $9.99 and $99.99 per year. All prices are in local currency.

That compares pretty well with the $6.99 per month (or $69.99 yearly) asking price in the U.S., and undercuts the Netflix pricing in those markets, too. This is just the Disney+ service on its own, however, not the combined bundle that includes ESPN Plus and Hulu for $12.99 per month, which is probably more comparable to Netflix in terms of breadth of content offering.

 

Just Eat and Takeaway.com reach agreement to gobble each other

The boards of Just Eat and Takeaway.com have reached agreement to combine their two European food delivery businesses.

The pair of publicly listed companies announced they were in talks to combine their businesses a week ago, saying then that talks were at an advanced stage.

Today they said their boards have reached agreement on the terms of “a recommended all-share combination”, and both will be recommending unanimously that shareholders vote in favor of the merger at respective meetings.

Meetings to seek shareholder approval are to be held no later than 20 December, and the pair say they expect the merger to be completed in Q4, assuming shareholders give the green light.

“The Combination would create one of the largest food delivery companies in the world, with scale, strategic vision, industry-leading capabilities, leading positions in attractive markets and a diversified geographic presence,” they write in today’s note, adding that the merger has “compelling strategic logic” and represents “an attractive opportunity” for both to build on “the strong individual platforms of Just Eat and Takeaway.com with the potential to deliver substantial benefits to respective shareholders, consumers,  employees and other stakeholders”.

Commenting in a statement, Jitse Groen, CEO of Takeaway.com, also said: “The Combination of Just Eat and Takeaway.com creates one of the world’s largest and most powerful food delivery websites. It will become a formidable company that will make an impact on tens of millions of consumers across the globe; it will be at the forefront of product and tech development in the sector, and it will lead the way in its relationship with its consumers, restaurant partners, its staff, and its delivery drivers. It is a dreamed combination, created by the sector’s dream team, and I can only be grateful for the opportunity of leading it.”

In another supporting statement, Just Eat’s chairman Mike Evans added: “The Board believes that this is a compelling offer for Just Eat shareholders which will create a global leader in a dynamic and rapidly growing sector. Our businesses have a shared philosophy and culture, and together we will create one of the world’s largest online food delivery platforms with leading positions in key markets. With a significant commitment to the UK and to the employees of Just Eat, we believe the new combination and proven leadership team will allow us to better serve our millions of consumers and thousands of restaurant partners around the world. Just Eat will be a driving force in the creation of an exciting global leader and I am looking forward to working with Jitse and the talented Takeaway.com team to seize this opportunity together.”

Under the agreed terms, Just Eat shareholders will be entitled to receive 0.09744 Takeaway.com shares for each Just Eat share which they state implies a value for Just Eat of 731 pence per Just Eat share based on Takeaway.com’s closing share price on 26 July 2019 of €83.55 — representing a premium of 15% to Just Eat’s closing share price on 26 July 2019 (ahead head of the announcement of the merger talks).

While, following completion, Just Eat Shareholders will own approximately 52.15% and Takeaway.com Shareholders will own approximately 47.85% of the combined group — which is set to be called Just Eat Takeaway.com N.V., and will be headquartered in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

The pair say the current intention is to maintain “a number” of Just Eat’s current headquarter functions in London (they do not state how many or which), and “a significant part of its operations in the United Kingdom, including its existing operations in London, Borehamwood and Bristol”.

“A full assessment of the Combined Group’s other locations has not yet been conducted, and as a result, there are no specific plans in relation to these other locations,” they add.

A two-tier board structure is planned for the merged entity, with a management board and supervisory board, both of which will comprise a mix of members from the Takeaway.com boards and from the Just Eat board — including current Takeaway.com CEO Groen assuming the role of CEO of the combined group and Paul Harrison, the current CFO of Just Eat, taking up the CFO role for the merged entity, while Takeaway.com’s current CFO, Brent Wissink, will become co-COO of the combined group, along with Takeaway.com’s current COO Jörg Gerbig.

For the supervisory board, the plan is for current Just Eat chairman Evans to take the chairman role, while Adriaan Nühn, currently the chairman of the Takeaway.com supervisory board, will be vice-chairman and senior independent non-executive director.

The supervisory board will also comprise three independent non-executive members identified by Just Eat and two non-executive members identified by Takeaway.com.

The pair say approval will be sought for the listing and admission to trading of the enlarged share capital of the Combined Group on the Premium Segment of the London Stock Exchange’s Main Market for listed securities; and of the new Takeaway.com shares on Euronext Amsterdam; and inclusion of the Combined Group in the FTSE 100 Index and FTSE All-Share Index.

“Based on initial discussions with FTSE, Takeaway.com and Just Eat anticipate that the Combined Group would be eligible for inclusion in the FTSE 100 Index and the FTSE All-Share Index from completion of the Combination,” they add.

Toyota testing improved solar roof for electric cars that can charge while driving

Toyota is testing a new and improved version of the solar power cells it previously launched on the Japan-exclusive Prius PHV, in a pilot along with partners Sharp and Japanese national research organization NEDO. This demo car’s prototype cells can convert solar energy at 34% and up, which is much better than the existing commercial version’s 22.5%, and unlike its predecessor it can also charge the car’s driving battery while the car is actually moving, recouping significant range while the vehicle is in use.

The new system will provide up to 44.5 km (27.7 miles) of additional range per day while parked and soaking up sun, and can also add up to 56.3 km (35 miles) of power to both the driving system and the auxiliary power battery on board, which runs the AC, navigation and more.

Using a redesigned solar battery cell film that measures only 0.03 mm (that’s 0.001 inches), the vehicles engineers could put the film over a much broader surface area of the vehicle compared to the existing production version, with solar cells that wrap around covered body components, the rear door and the hood with relative ease. And as mentioned, the system can now work while the car is actually driving, thanks to changes in how generated power is fed to the system, which is a huge step up from the last generation which could only push power to that auxiliary battery to run the radio, etc. when in motion.

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This new test vehicle will hit the road in Japan in late July, and perform trials across a range of different regions to test its abilities in different weather and driving conditions. Ultimately, the goal is to use this research to facilitate the commercial deployment of more efficient solar power generation tech that can work in a number of transportation applications.

Solar powered cars to date have been a bit of an outlier proposition: There’s Toyota’s own Prius PHV, but it’s quite limited in terms of what you gain vs. a traditionally plug-in electric. Lightyear One, a startup from The Netherlands, unveiled its own solar electric consumer car last month, but production on that vehicle isn’t set to start until 2021, and it’s a new entrant into the market, at that.

Lightyear One debuts as the first long-range solar-powered electric car

Electric cars are better for the environment than fossil fuel-burning vehicles, but they still rely on the grid, which can be variously dirty or clean depending on what sources it uses for its energy. The new Lightyear One is a prototype vehicle that would improve that by collecting the power it needs to run from the sun.

Lightyear, a startup from the Netherlands born as Stella, has come a long way since it won a Crunchie award in 2015, with a vehicle that now looks ready for the road. The Lightyear One prototype vehicle unveiled today has a sleek, driver-friendly design and also boasts a range of 450 miles on a single charge – definitely a first for a car powered by solar and intended for the actual consumer market.

© Twycer / www.twycer.nl

The startup says that it has already sold “over a hundred vehicles” even though this isn’t yet ready to hit the road, but Lightyear is aiming to begin production by 2021, with reservations available for 500 additional units for the initial release. You do have to pay €119,000 up front (around $136,000 USD) to secure a reservation, however.

Lightyear One isn’t just a plug-in electric with some solar sells on the roof: Instead it’s designed from the ground up to maximize performance from a smaller-than-typical battery that can directly grab sun from a roof and hood covered with 16 square feet of solar cells, embedded in safety glass designed with passenger wellbeing in mind. The car can also take power directly from regular outlets and existing charging stations for a quick top-up, and again because it’s optimized to be lightweight and power efficient, you can actually get around 250 miles on just one night of charging from a standard (European) 230V outlet.

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The car should supplement existing electric cars for buyers who are more conscious of range anxiety and nervous about having enough charge, the company says. It still have to actually enter production, however, and even when it does it’ll be a fairly expensive and small batch product, at least at first. But it’s an impressive feat nonetheless, and a potential new direction for EVs of the future.

KLM Airlines wants to help build a more efficient jet with in-wing seating

Air travel accounts for a significant chunk of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and the amount of air travel has risen steadily over the past few decades, with emissions from aviation predicted to grow significantly through 2020 and beyond. Electric passenger planes are in the works, but unlikely to replace our workhorse passenger jets any time soon – which is why efforts like a new type of conventional fuel aircraft designed being backed by KLM Airlines.

The new aircraft design, conceived by designer Justus Benad and being further realized by a team of researchers at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology, per CNN. The look of the aircraft is clearly different from the start, ditching the typical cylindrical tube main fuselage for a ‘squat slice of pizza’ look that extends the body through the wings of the plane.

This beefed up core holds passengers, fuel and cargo, and through this distribution, which improves the aircraft’s overall aerodynamics, the plane will manage to be 20 percent more fuel-efficient vs. the Airbus A350, which carries approximately the same amount of passengers depending on its configuration.

A savings of 20 percent in fuel consumption may not seem like much, but over time, and at scale, it could potentially make a huge difference – especially if the pace of electric aircraft development and other alternatives doesn’t pick up. That said, timelines for deployment aren’t super immediate: These could enter service sometime between 2040 and 2050 based on the current development schedule, which isn’t exactly tomorrow.

Testing an all-new design for passenger jets, which basically look like they did when they were first introduced, is obviously not something one undertakes lightly, however. The good news is that the team is hoping to put a scale model into real-world flight testing later this year.

FBI has seized Deep Dot Web and arrested its administrators

The FBI have arrested several people suspected of involvement in running Deep Dot Web, a website for facilitating access to dark web sites and marketplaces.

Two suspects were arrested in Tel Aviv and Ashdod, according to Israel’s Tel Aviv Police, which confirmed the arrests in a statement earlier in the day, Local media first reported the arrests.

Arrests were also made in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil.

Deep Dot Web is said to have made millions of dollars in commission by offering referral links to dark web marketplaces, accessible only at an .onion domain used specifically by the Tor anonymity network. Tor bounces internet traffic through a series of random relay servers dotted across the world, making it near-impossible to trace the user.

Its .onion site displayed a seized notice by the FBI, citing U.S. money laundering laws. Its clear web domain no longer loads.

Tuesday’s arrests follow an earlier operation by U.S. and German authorities earlier in the week that took down the Wall Street Market, one of the largest remaining dark web marketplaces. Thousands of sellers sold drugs, weapons and stolen credentials used to break into online accounts.

Efforts to reach Deep Dot Web over encrypted chat were unsuccessful.

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and the FBI did not immediately comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli consulate in New York did not respond to a request for comment.

Tech regulation in Europe will only get tougher

European governments have been bringing the hammer down on tech in recent months, slapping record fines and stiff regulations on the largest imports out of Silicon Valley. Despite pleas from the world’s leading companies and Europe’s eroding trust in government, European citizens’ staunch support for regulation of new technologies points to an operating environment that is only getting tougher.

According to a roughly 25-page report recently published by a research arm out of Spain’s IE University, European citizens remain skeptical of tech disruption and want to handle their operators with kid gloves, even at a cost to the economy.

The survey was led by the IE’s Center for the Governance of Change — an IE-hosted research institution focused on studying “the political, economic, and societal implications of the current technological revolution and advances solutions to overcome its unwanted effects.” The “European Tech Insights 2019” report surveyed roughly 2,600 adults from various demographics across seven countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK) to gauge ground-level opinions on ongoing tech disruption and how government should deal with it.

The report does its fair share of fear-mongering and some of its major conclusions come across as a bit more “clickbaity” than insightful. However, the survey’s more nuanced data and line of questioning around specific forms of regulation offer detailed insight into how the regulatory backdrop and operating environment for European tech may ultimately evolve.

 

Distractions

Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in ~60 markets

In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it’s expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.

Many governments are now actively questioning how competition policy needs to be updated to rein in platform power and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the tech giant shadow.

But in a note about the changes to chromium’s default search engine lists on an Github instance, Google software engineer Orin Jaworski merely writes that the list of search engine references per country is being “completely replaced based on new usage statistics” from “recently collected data”.

Their choices appear to loosely line up with top four marketshare.

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the Github instance.

Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all.

Another pro-privacy search rivals, French search engine Qwant, has also been added as a new option — though only in its home market, France.

Whereas DDG has been added in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.

“We’re glad that Google has recognized the importance of offering consumers a private search option,” DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg told us when approached for comment about the change.

DDG has been growing steadily for years — and has also recently taken outside investment to scale its efforts to capitalize on growing international appetite for pro-privacy products.

Interestingly, the chromium Github instance is dated December 2018 which appears to be around about the time when Google (finally) passed the Duck.com domain to DuckDuckGo, after holding onto the domain and pointing it to Google.com for years.

We asked Google for comment on the timing of the changes to search engine options in chromium. At the time of writing the search giant had not responded.

We’ve also reached out to Qwant for comment on being added as an option in its home market.