Connect with us

Technology

The first privately funded trip to the moon is about to launch

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612987/the-first-privately-funded-trip-to-the-moon-is-about-to-launch/

Published

on

Update: The SpaceIL lander was launched and deployed successfully on February 21, at 8:45 p.m. aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It’s expected arrival on the lunar surface is April 2019.

More than 10 years ago, Google and X Prize offered a $20 million prize for the first nongovernmental organization to complete a lunar mission. Just under a year after the competition ended without a winner, it seems a former competitor will make an attempt. If all goes to plan, the Israel-based organization SpaceIL will be launching its lunar lander, Beresheet, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket tomorrow at 8:45 p.m. US Eastern time from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This article first appeared in The Airlock, our space technology newsletter. You can sign up here—it’s free!

The lasting X Prize impact

SpaceIL

Since the Lunar X Prize was launched in 2007, only four vehicles have successfully reached the moon. They were all government-funded, and only the two launched by China had the ability to rove on the moon’s surface—one of the Lunar X Prize’s criteria (see “Why getting back to the moon is so damn hard”).

As of March 31 of last year, when the Lunar X Prize shut down, the cash is off the table. But many of the teams that entered are pressing on. While SpaceIL will be the first to lift off, at least five previous competitors have now secured launch contracts to take them to the moon within the next two years. Moon Express, the first of the teams to get the green light to launch, is targeting 2020, and Astrobotic, which has already sold 13 spots on its first mission, is shooting for the first quarter of 2021. “If [SpaceIL] can land on the moon, it proves non-government entities can do it,” Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told me. “It shows the world our business case is that much more real.”

SPACEIL

The journey ahead

But SpaceIL has a long journey ahead before it can claim success. About 30 minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft will disengage from the rocket and begin a 40-day trip to the moon. Two minutes after separation, Beresheet will communicate for the first time with mission control in Israel.

Over the ensuing month, the spacecraft will perform a series of phasing loops (elliptical orbits that slowly get further away from Earth) until it can enter lunar orbit. It’ll then spend six days orbiting the moon until it goes in for a landing. Its first landing opportunity will come on April 11. (If you’re interested in more detail about the journey, check out this awesome guide by the Planetary Society.)

The race for fourth

Success would put Israel on the map as the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft—that is, achieve a non-crash landing—on the lunar surface. “This mission is a source of inspiration for people around the world,” Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s president, said in a press release. “And we are looking forward to making history and watching as the Israeli flag joins superpowers Russia, China, and the United States on moon.”

That is, if it gets there in time.

One of the disadvantages of being a private organization is that SpaceIL doesn’t have its own rocket and it isn’t even the biggest customer for this launch. It’s actually hitching a ride alongside the primary payload, the Indonesian telecommunications satellite Nusantara Satu. “In the Apollo days they got to the moon within two days, but it will take us about one and a half months,” SpaceIL cofounder Yonatan Winetraub told NBC News. “That’s how it is if you don’t want to pay full price.”

But you know who does have a rocket? India. And India is planning to launch its Chandrayaan-2 moon mission in mid-April and take a much faster route to the lunar surface. Depending on when liftoff happens, there’s a chance India could pass the Israeli craft while it’s out there doing its umpteenth phasing loop, and nab that fourth spot right from under its rover wheels. Of course, being fifth isn’t half bad either, and it’s an amazing accomplishment no matter who gets there first. But it’ll put a bit of a time crunch on India—whose mission has already been delayed three times—if it does care about getting there first. I mean, fourth.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Technology

These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

Published

on

These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

Continue Reading

Technology

Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

Published

on

Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

Continue Reading

Technology

Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

Published

on

Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

Continue Reading

Recent Posts