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Virgin Galactic is ‘coming home’ to Spaceport America in New Mexico

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in richard branson, sir richard branson, Space, TC, Transportation, Virgin Galactic | 0 comments

Aspiring space tourism outfit Virgin Galactic has just announced its readiness to shift its operations to New Mexico’s Spaceport America, from which the company’s first commercial flights will take off. “Virgin Galactic is coming home to New Mexico where together we will open space to change the world for good,” said Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson at a press event.

The plan isn’t exactly a surprise, since Virgin Galactic and New Mexico collaborated on the creation of the spaceport, which at present is the only thing of its kind in the world. But moving from a testing and R&D hangar to a place where actual customers will board the spaceships is a major milestone.

I talked with George Whitesides, VG’s CEO, about what the move really means and, of course, when it will actually happen.

“We’re fulfilling the commitment that we made years ago to bring an operational spaceline to the world’s first purpose-built spaceport,” he told me. “So what does that mean? One, the vehicles are moving, and all the stuff that goes along with operating those vehicles. And all the people that operate the vehicles, and the staff that are so-called customer-facing. And you’ll have all the relevant supply chain folks and core infrastructure folks who are associated with running a spaceline.”

Right now, that rather complicated list really only adds up to about a hundred employees — a large part of the workforce will remain in Mojave, where R&D and new vehicle engineering will continue to be based in the form of The Spaceship Company.

“As we move towards commercial services, we’re thinking more about what comes next, like hypersonic and point to point spaceflight,” Whitesides said.

That said, VG isn’t finished with its existing craft just yet. You can expect a couple more, depending on what the engineers think is necessary. But it’s not a “huge number.”

Moving to Spaceport America from its Mojave facilities is being undertaken now for several reasons, Whitesides explained. In the first place, the craft is pretty much ready to go.

“The last flight we did, we basically demonstrated a full commercial profile, including the interior of the vehicle,” he said. “Not only did we, you know, go up to space and come down, but because Beth was in the back — Beth Moses, our flight instructor — she was sort of our mock passenger. She got up a couple times and moved around, she was able to verify our cabin conditions. So we started thinking, maybe we’re at a place where we could move.”

The paperwork from the FAA and other authorities is in order. The spaceport has been ready for some time, too, at least the difficult parts like the runway, fuel infrastructure, communications equipment and so on. Right now it’s more like they need to pick the color for the carpet and buy the flatscreens and fridges for inside.

“But the people perspective is a key part of this,” Whitesides continued. “These people have families, they have kids. We always thought, wouldn’t it be nice to move over the summer, so they don’t have to leave in the middle of a school year? If we start now, our employees can more easily integrate into the community in New Mexico. So we said, actually let’s just do this right now. It’s a bold choice and a big deal but it’s the right thing to do.”

And what about the vehicles, VMS Eve and VSS Unity? How will they get there?

“That’s the great thing about an air launch system,” said Whitesides. “It’s the easiest part, in a way. Once all the other stuff is down there we’ll look deep into each other’s eyes, and say ‘are we ready?’ And then we put together the spaceship and go. It’s built to fly longer distances than that — so we’ll start the day with our base of operations in Mojave, and end the day with our base of operations in New Mexico.”

And a lovely base it will be. The spaceport, designed by Foster & Partners in the U.K., is a striking shape that rises out of the desert and should have all the facilities necessary to run a commercial spaceline — it’s probably the only place in the world that would work for that purpose, which makes sense as it was built for it.

“Because we’re horizontal take-off and landing, operationally on the ground side, it basically looks like an airport. The coolest-looking airport ever, but an airport,” Whitesides said. “It’s got a big beautiful runway — but you’ll notice that it’s got Earth to space comms links, this special antenna, and instead of a tower we have a mission control, and of course there’s the special ground tankage — oxidizer tanks and that kind of propulsion related infrastructure.”

The airspace surrounding the spaceport is also restricted all the way from the surface up to infinity, which helps when your flights span multiple air traffic levels. “And it’s already a mile up, so that’s an asset,” Whitesides observed. A mile closer to space — more a convenience than a necessity, but it’s a good start.

The actual moving operations should take place over the summer. The remaining test flights aren’t yet scheduled, but I’m sure that will soon change — and you’ll definitely hear about it when the first commercial flights are put on the books.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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With $90 million in funding, the Ginkgo spinoff Motif joins the fight for the future of food

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Amazon Web Services, bEYOND meat, Bill Gates, biotechnology, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Chief Operating Officer, Co-founder, Food, food and drink, Ginkgo Bioworks, head, Impossible foods, jack ma, Jason Kelly, jeff bezos, John Doerr, manufacturing, Marc Benioff, Masayoshi Son, meat, meat substitutes, meg whitman, michael bloomberg, monsanto, partner, protein, Reid Hoffman, richard branson, TC, Tyson Foods, Vinod Khosla, web services | 0 comments

Continuing its quest to become the Amazon Web Services for biomanufacturing, <a href=””>Ginkgo Bioworks has launched a new spinoff called Motif Ingredients with $90 million in funding to develop proteins that can serve as meat and dairy replacements.

It’s the second spinout for Ginkgo since late 2017 when the company partnered with Bayer to launch Joyn Bio, a startup researching and developing bacteria that could improve crop yields.

Now, with Motif, Ginkgo is tackling the wild world of protein replacements for the food and beverage industry through the spinoff of Motif Ingredients.

It’s a move that’s likely going to send shockwaves through several of the alternative meat and dairy companies that were using Ginkgo as their manufacturing partner in their quest to reduce the demand for animal husbandry — a leading contributor to global warming — through the development of protein replacements.

“To help feed the world and meet consumers’ evolving food preferences, traditional and complementary nutritional sources need to co-exist. As a global dairy nutrition company, we see plant- and fermentation-produced nutrition as complementary to animal protein, and in particular cows’ milk,” said Judith Swales, the Chief Operating Officer, for the Global Consumer and Foodservice Business, of Fonterra, an investor in Ginkgo’s new spinout.

To ensure the success of its new endeavor Ginkgo has raised $90 million in financing from industry insiders like Fonterra and the global food processing and trading firm Louis Dreyfus Co., while also tapping the pool of deep-pocketed investors behind Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate focused investment fund financed by a global gaggle of billionaires including Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, Jack Ma, Neil Shen, Masayoshi Son, and Meg Whitman.

Leading Ginkgo’s latest spinout is a longtime veteran of the food and beverage industry, Jonathan McIntyre, the former head of research and development at another biotechnology startup focused on agriculture — Indigo Ag.

McIntyre, who left Indigo just two years after being named the company’s head of research and development, previously had stints at Monsanto, Nutrasweet, and PepsiCo (in both its beverage and snack divisions).

“There’s an opportunity to produce proteins,” says McIntyre. “Right now as population grows the protein supply is going to be challenged. Motif gives the ability to create proteins and make products from low cost available genetic material.”

Photo: paylessimages/iStock

Ginkgo, which will have a minority stake in the new company, will provide engineering and design work to Motif and provide some initial research and development work on roughly six to nine product lines.

That push, with the financing, and Ginkgo’s backing as the manufacturer of new proteins for Motif Ingredients should put the company in a comfortable position to achieve McIntyre’s goals of bringing his company’s first products into the market within the next two years. All Motif has to pay is cost plus slight overhead for the Ginkgo ingredients.

“We started putting Motif together around February or March of 2018,” says Ginkgo co-founder Jason Kelly of the company’s plans. “The germination of the business had its inception earlier though, from interacting with companies in the food and beverage scene. When we talked to these companies the strong sense we got was if there had been a trusted provider of outsourced protein development they would have loved to work with us.”

The demand from consumers for alternative sources of protein and dairy — that have the same flavor profiles as traditional dairy and meats — has reached an inflection point over the past few years. Certainly venture capital interest into the industry has soared along with the appetite from traditional protein purveyors like Danone, Tyson Foods, and others to take a bite out of the market.

Some industry insiders think it was Danone’s 2016 acquisition of WhiteWave in a $12.5 billion deal that was the signal which brought venture investors and food giants alike flocking to startups that were developing meat and dairy substitutes. The success of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods has only served to prove that a growing market exists for these substitutes.

At the same time, solving the problem of protein for a growing global population is critical if the world is going to reverse course on climate change. Agriculture and animal husbandry are huge contributors to the climate crisis and ones for which no solution has made it to market.

Investors think cultured proteins — fermented in tanks like brewing beer — could be an answer.

Photograph: David Parry/EPA

“Innovative or disruptive solutions are key to responding to changing consumer demand and to addressing the challenge of feeding a growing world population sustainably,” said Kristen Eshak Weldon, Head of Food Innovation & Downstream Strategy at Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a leading merchant and processor of agricultural goods. “In this sense, we are excited to partner with Motif, convinced that its next-generation ingredients will play a vital role.”

Breakthrough Energy Ventures certainly thinks so.

The investment firm has been busy placing bets across a number of different biologically based solutions to reduce the emissions associated with agriculture and cultivation. Pivot Bio is a startup competing with Ginkgo’s own Joyn Bio to create nitrogen fixing techniques for agriculture. And earlier this month, the firm invested as part of a $33 million round for Sustainable Bioproducts, which is using a proprietary bacteria found in a remote corner of Yellowstone National Park to make its own protein substitute.

For all of these companies, the goal is nothing less than providing a commercially viable technology to combat some of the causes of climate change in a way that’s appealing to the average consumer.

“Sustainability and accessible nutrition are among the biggest challenges facing the food industry today. Consumers are demanding mindful food options, but there’s a reigning myth that healthy and plant-based foods must come at a higher price, or cannot taste or function like the animal-based foods they aim to replicate,” said McIntyre, in a statement. “Biotechnology and fermentation is our answer, and Motif will be key to propelling the next food revolution with affordable, sustainable and accessible ingredients that meet the standards of chefs, food developers, and visionary brands.”

Source: The Tech Crunch

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