Archive for November, 2020

‘Complete Success’: Rocket Lab’s booster recovery is a big step towards reusability

Rocket Lab has successfully recovered the first stage of an Electron launch vehicle after it made a controlled splashdown in the Atlantic, marking a major milestone in the company’s quest for a reusable rocket. CEO Peter Beck, speaking to press shortly after the operation, called the mission “a complete success” — and it raised $286,092 for charity to boot. This was the first major test of Rocket Lab’s improved Electron, which has a modified interstage (above the first stage booster but below the second stage, which takes the payload into orbit) that allows the booster to make a controlled descent after detaching. The plan for the future is to have a helicopter catch the booster in mid-air, but this first time the team decided to let it splash down first. “Pulling rockets out of the ocean is just not fun,” Beck noted. Before the mission even starts, a general idea of the descent area is already known, since the trajectory of the rocket has been carefully planned and the weather monitored closely. And as the launch proceeds, the projected descent area becomes more and more clear based on information streamed from the rocket itself. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will go reusable, with the company aiming for mid-air helicopter recovery “Downrange we’ll have a ship and a helicopter based on the ship. It’ll take off at the same time as the rocket and hover over the predicted reentry point,” explained Beck. “The moment we hand over to stage one, it is telemetrying its predicted impact point in real time. The whole time there’s sort of a real time feedback loop.” He pointed out that, should something go wrong with the launch, the helicopter is not at risk of being struck by debris going 900 miles per hour, since the trajectory be completely different in that case. After the second stage detached, the first began its descent, hitting about mach 2 before deploying its pilot chute, then a drogue chute for about a minute to get its speed down, then the main glider chute under which it would normally cruise along a predictable path until being picked up by the helicopter. In this case it was allowed to splash down, however, “within a few miles” of the predicted impact zone. It was going about 9 meters per second, or 20 miles per hour, when it hit the water. Image Credits: Rocket Lab Beck was back at mission control, and happy to be so, he said. “Based on the state of the sea, I’m glad I wasn’t out on the boat. The trip back was on 5-meter swells. I don’t have particularly strong sea legs myself,” he admitted. The descending stage was sending back sparse but accurate telemetry, however, which he was watching as the second stage continued its journey. “It felt like cheating, to take your eyes off the ascent to watch the reentry.” (He added that “if you were in the room, you’d probably have described me as a giggling schoolboy.” […]

Discord is close to closing a round that would value the company at up to $7B

Discord, the communications service that’s become the 21st century’s answer to MUD rooms, is close to closing a new round of financing that would value the company at up to $7 billion, according to sources with knowledge of the round. The new funding comes just months after a $100 million investment that gave the company a $3.5 billion valuation. Discord’s doubling in corporate value comes as the persistent, inept, American response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate the adoption and growth of businesses creating virtual social networking opportunities. Those opportunities are apparent in Discord’s explosive growth. Monthly active users have almost doubled to 120 million this year and the company has seen 800,000 downloads a day thanks, in part, to the wildly popular game Among Us (which received a ringing endorsement from the popular congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez). AOC’s Among Us stream topped 435,000 concurrent viewers Discord built its initial growth on the back of the gaming industry and the rise of multi-player, multi-platform games that supplanted earlier social networks as the online town square for a generation of young gamers (whose numbers globally now spiral north of several billion). But, as the company’s founders noted when they announced their last round of financing, the Discord use case has extended far beyond the gaming community. “It turns out that, for a lot of you, it wasn’t just about video games anymore,” wrote co-founders Jason Citron and Stanislav Vishnevskiy in a July blog post announcing the latest financing. The two men frame their company as “a place designed to hang out and talk in the comfort of your own communities and friends.” Discord, they say, is “a place to have genuine conversations and spend quality time with people, whether catching up, learning something or sharing ideas.” If that sounds familiar to some of the internet’s earliest users, that’s because it is. Back in the dawn of the world wide web, multi-user dungeons (MUD) provided ways for practitioners of any number of sub cultures to find each other online and chat about whatever tickled their collective fancy. As the web evolved, so did the number of places and spaces for these conversations to happen. Now there are multivariate ways for users to find each other within the web, but Discord seems to have risen above most of the rest. As analyst John Koetsier noted in Forbes back in 2019, there were already 250 million Discord users sending 315 million messages a day. Those are the company’s pre-pandemic numbers — and they’re impressive by any standards. As with any platform that has become popular on the web, Discord isn’t without its underbelly. Three years ago, the company tried to boot a number of its most racist users, but their ability to use the platform to disseminate hate speech has stubbornly persisted. Until mid-2019, white nationalists were comfortable enough using the service to warrant a shoutout from Daily Stormer founder, Andrew Anglin, who urged his fellow travelers to stop using the service. […]