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Rocket startup Skyrora shifts production to hand sanitizer and face masks for coronavirus response

Rocket startup Skyrora shifts production to hand sanitizer and face masks for coronavirus response

One of the newer companies attempting to join the rarified group of private space launch startups actually flying payloads to orbit has redirected its entire UK-based manufacturing capacity towards COVID-19 response. Skyrora, which is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, is answering the call of the UK government and the NHS to manufacturers to do what they can to provide much-needed healthcare equipment for frontline responders amid the coronavirus crisis.

Skyrorary says that the entirety of its UK operations, including all human resources and its working capital are now dedicated to COVID-19 response. The startup, which was founded in 2017, had been working towards test flights of its first spacecraft, making progress including an early successful engine test using its experimental, more eco-friendly rocket fuel that was completed in February.

For now, though, Skyrora will be focusing full on building hand sanitizer, its first effort to support the COVID-19 response. The company has already produce their initial batch using WHO guidelines and requirements, and now aims to scale up its production efforts to the point where it can manufacture the sanitizer at a rate of over 10,000 250 ml bottles per week.

There’s actually a pretty close link between rocketry and hand sanitizer: Ethanol, the form of alcohol that provides the fundamental disinfecting ingredient for hand sanitizer, has been used in  early rocket fuel. Skyrora’s ‘Ecosene’ fuel is a type of kerosene, however, which is a much more common modern aviation and rocket fuel.

In addition to sanitizer, Skyrora is now in talks with the Scottish Government to see where 3D-printed protective face masks might have a beneficial impact on ensuring health worker safety. It’s testing initial prototypes now, and will look to mass produce the protective equipment after those tests verify its output.

Plenty of companies are pitching in where they can, including by shifting their production lines and manufacturing capacity towards areas of greatest need. It’s definitely an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ moment, but there’s definitely a question of what happens to businesses that shift their focus this dramatically once the emergency passes, especially for young startups in emerging industries.

SpaceX to deliver cargo to NASA’s lunar Gateway station using a new ‘Dragon XL’ spacecraft

NASA has tapped SpaceX as the first provider of space-based logistics to deliver experiment materials, cargo and supplies to its lunar Gateway, the agency announced on Friday. This means SpaceX will be among the companies that NASA can turn to when it needs things shuttled via spaceship between Earth and this forthcoming platform, which will orbit the Moon and provide a staging ground for future crewed Moon missions.

The contract means that SpaceX will play a key role in not only NASA’s forthcoming Artemis Moon missions, which will eventually seek to establish a permanent scientific human lunar presence, but that it also will be involved as NASA begins to work toward extending its reach to Mars, as well. NASA plans to launch multiple cargo supply missions to the Gateway, which has yet to be constructed, with spacecraft designed to go to the station and remain there for between six and 12 months at a time.

The total value of these contracts will top out at a maximum of $7 billion for the entire contract, with a guaranteed minimum of two missions per provider. Other providers will likely be selected, but SpaceX is the first company to be signed by NASA under the agreement. SpaceX is already contracted by NASA to deliver regular supply runs to the International Space Station in Earth orbit using its Dragon cargo spacecraft.

SpaceX is going to be launching a new variant of its Dragon spacecraft called the “Dragon XL” in order to support these missions, and they will be able to carry more than five metric tons to the Moon-orbiting station. They’ll use SpaceX’s existing Falcon Heavy craft to launch from Earth for the trip.

In terms of timing, we’ll likely have to wait a while for the first of these missions to actually take off: While the current plan is to launch the first module for the station as early as 2022, it’ll likely only be a few years after that that the station is in any shape to receive regular cargo runs.

SpaceX to deliver cargo to NASA’s lunar Gateway station using a new ‘Dragon XL’ spacecraft

SpaceX to deliver cargo to NASA’s lunar Gateway station using a new ‘Dragon XL’ spacecraft

NASA has tapped SpaceX as the first provider of space-based logistics to deliver experiment materials, cargo and supplies to its lunar Gateway, the agency announced on Friday. This means SpaceX will be among the companies that NASA can turn to when it needs things shuttled via spaceship between Earth and this forthcoming platform, which will orbit the Moon and provide a staging ground for future crewed Moon missions.

The contract means that SpaceX will play a key role in not only NASA’s forthcoming Artemis Moon missions, which will eventually seek to establish a permanent scientific human lunar presence, but that it also will be involved as NASA begins to work toward extending its reach to Mars, as well. NASA plans to launch multiple cargo supply missions to the Gateway, which has yet to be constructed, with spacecraft designed to go to the station and remain there for between six and 12 months at a time.

The total value of these contracts will top out at a maximum of $7 billion for the entire contract, with a guaranteed minimum of two missions per provider. Other providers will likely be selected, but SpaceX is the first company to be signed by NASA under the agreement. SpaceX is already contracted by NASA to deliver regular supply runs to the International Space Station in Earth orbit using its Dragon cargo spacecraft.

SpaceX is going to be launching a new variant of its Dragon spacecraft called the “Dragon XL” in order to support these missions, and they will be able to carry more than five metric tons to the Moon-orbiting station. They’ll use SpaceX’s existing Falcon Heavy craft to launch from Earth for the trip.

In terms of timing, we’ll likely have to wait a while for the first of these missions to actually take off: While the current plan is to launch the first module for the station as early as 2022, it’ll likely only be a few years after that that the station is in any shape to receive regular cargo runs.

Apple TV+ joins Netflix in reducing European streaming quality

Apple TV+ joins Netflix in reducing European streaming quality

Choppy Choppy

Image: Budrul Chukrut / getty

Europeans quarantined at home will be riding out the coronavirus pandemic in low-res.

Apple TV+ has joined the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming giants this week in downgrading streaming video quality across the continent in an apparent effort to reduce strain on the internet. 

We reached out to Apple, which confirmed the move, in an attempt to determine when the decision was made, how long it will last, which specific countries or regions are affected, and how degraded the streaming quality is. The company did not respond to any of our specific questions. 

9to5Mac reported that European customers are seeing resolutions “as low as 670 pixels tall” — a far cry from the service’s oft-touted 4K. Mashable is unable to independently confirm 9to5Mac’s reporting, however, there are Twitter accounts echoing the low-resolution claims. 

“I’m Italian and I was watching ‘Truth’ on the Apple TV 4K and it seemed to me in SD but I didn’t want to believe it,” reads one such tweet. “So I took the Fire Stick 4K activated the developer tool and these are the results, 670×308 resolution and average bitrate 300/400 kbps. RIDICULOUS”

The least expensive AppleTV 4K device the company currently sells is listed on its site for $179. “HDMI cable,” unfortunately, “sold separately.”

While there are certainly more important things to worry about than streaming quality as the coronavirus sweeps the globe, customers may be forgiven for wondering if one of the wealthiest companies in the world will offer them some sort of refund after failing to provide a promised service. 

Epic Games buys UK facial mapping startup Cubic Motion

Epic Games buys UK facial mapping startup Cubic Motion

Epic Games announced today that it’s buying Cubic Motion, a computer vision startup that’s been building out a platform for capturing more realistic facial animations with a complex camera rig and software platform.

The game studio behind Fortnite and the Unreal Engine has already done plenty of work with the UK-based startup, creating a number of tech demos over the past several years that have centered on translating an actor’s facial movements to a digital character in real-time. The startup’s Persona product which launched last year bundles both its software and motion capture hardware rig.

Cubic Motion’s technology has been used in recent blockbuster gaming titles like Sony Interactive Entertainment’s God of War and Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man.

The startup raised just over $22 million in funding from NorthEdge Capital. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The startup will continue serving existing customers while also accelerating integrations between the company’s tech and Unreal Engine, the companies said in a press release.

While Epic Games and competitor Unity continue to court large game developers, acquisitions like this signify hopes that the real-time game engines will infiltrate industries outside gaming more deeply. This acquisition will undoubtedly be helpful for helping higher budget game studios craft intricate cut scenes but the integration will likely also serve to court more attention from movie studios interested in bringing real-time rendering into their workflows.

Last year, Epic acquired game studio 3Lateral which built more realistic human avatars. That, partnered with this latest acquisition, suggests that Epic sees more realism in human characters and avatars as a category worth investing in.