'We are a go': SpaceX just cleared 2 huge hurdles toward its first rocket launch of NASA astronauts into space next week

Businessinsider - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 06:16

  • SpaceX is preparing to launch its first people into orbit on Wednesday using a new Crew Dragon spaceship.
  • NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will pilot the commercial mission, called Demo-2.
  • But the rocket company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, first needed to test-fire its rocket and get permission from NASA and even other countries before attempting the launch.
  • On Friday, SpaceX checked off both boxes, leaving one final pre-launch review on Monday before the mission can leave Earth. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk in 2002, is steamrolling toward its first-ever rocket launch of people into orbit.

The NASA-funded commercial mission is called Demo-2 and will fly two passengers: seasoned NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

If all goes according to plan, the team will lift off inside the company's new Crew Dragon spaceship at 4:33 p.m. ET on Wednesday, in effect resurrecting human spaceflight from America after nearly a decade of dormancy. If the weather or other conditions don't cooperate, SpaceX's next chance to launch Demo-2 will be Saturday, May 30, at a similar time.

But before Demo-2's launch can happen, SpaceX needs to clear a number of final safety hurdles, and the company on Friday passed two of those penultimate steps.

"We are now preparing for a launch in five short days," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a televised press briefing on Friday, later adding: "We are a go."

Musk: It's taken 'probably 10,000 meetings' and tests to get here

The first milestone SpaceX achieved was a flight readiness review. Such pre-launch meetings are typically long, as stakeholders comb for any final issues and think of ways to reduce risk. When people are on the line, though, such reviews become even more painstakingly detailed.

Behnken and Hurley's mission has them docking to the International Space Station and living with a crew of three other people for up to 110 days, too. So Russia, Japan, and other member-states of the orbital outpost got a say in the decision to launch Demo-2 as well.

"Everybody in the room was very clear that now is the time to speak up if there are any challenges. And there were," Bridenstine said.

One apparently had to do with final discussions of an issue raised by members of Roscosmos. (The Russian space agency not only co-runs the space station with NASA, but also is — for now — the only way astronauts can reach the space station.)

Kirk Shireman, who manages the space station program at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said Roscosmos in 2019 made SpaceX aware of a "very, very remote possibility of a failure" with the Crew Dragon that might cause "catastrophic damage" when docking to the ISS.

"SpaceX said we understand, and we'll make a modification," Shireman added, noting the unspecified issue was resolved to Russia's satisfaction with the new Crew Dragon ship for Demo-2.

The meeting lasted nearly two workdays, but SpaceX came out the other end with permission.

The second major hurdle that SpaceX cleared, shortly after the review, was a brief test-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket's engines.

SpaceX and NASA just have to conduct one last full mission dress rehearsal this weekend, and then take the results of it and the static fire test into another review.

Luckily for Musk, that should be the final meeting on the path to launch.

"There might have been 10,000 meetings" to get to this point, Musk said on May 17 for a Bloomberg story by Ashlee Vance. "There are probably 10,000 tests of one kind or another that have taken place."

NASA: 'We're going to stay hungry until Bob and Doug come home'

Kathy Lueders, who manages the Commercial Crew Program for NASA, also revealed that the estimated chance the astronauts might die during the mission — a figure called loss-of-crew — fell within a crucial 1-in-270 threshold set by the space agency.

Business Insider requested the exact loss-of-crew probability for Demo-2, but NASA did not immediately provide the figure. The agency also did not immediately provide a loss-of-mission estimate, which examines the likelihood astronauts survive yet can't complete their mission.

Whatever the risk of Demo-2 may be, Behnken and Hurley — who SpaceX's president and COO, Gwynne Shotwell, has described as "badass" dads, test pilots, and astronauts — said they're ready to fly.

"I think we're really comfortable with it," Behnken told Business Insider just after the flight review finished on Friday. He added that, by working with SpaceX on Crew Dragon for roughly five years, he and Hurley have more insight into the ways the mission could fail "than any crew has in recent history, just in terms of understanding the different scenarios that are at play."

Lueders said no amount of reviews and tests would stop the team from continuing to imagine other possible problems and improve solutions for known issues.

"We're going to stay hungry until Bob and Doug come home," Lueders said. "Our teams are scouring and thinking of every single risk that's out there, and we've worked our butt off to buy down the ones we know of, and we'll continue to look — and continue to buy them down — until we bring them home."

SEE ALSO: 'We've grown up': SpaceX's failures have prepared the rocket company to launch NASA astronauts for the first time, says president Gwynne Shotwell

DON'T MISS: NASA picked these 9 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's spaceships for the first time

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Hertz: Car rental firm files for US bankruptcy protection

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The company said the coronavirus pandemic had led to an "abrupt" decline in bookings.
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Ramadan: German church opens doors for Muslim prayers

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New social distancing rules meant many worshippers had nowhere to go until the church stepped in.
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Brazil overtakes Russia to become No 2 in world for virus cases

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Apple TV Plus' 'Defending Jacob' is a hit, but new data suggests subscriber growth is sluggish

Businessinsider - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 03:20

  • Apple TV Plus sign-ups in March and April were no greater than February sign-ups, according to the research company Antenna, suggesting that the streaming service's subscriber growth is slow compared to others during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • But audience demand for Apple's original TV shows has grown since March, according to Parrot Analytics, particularly its breakout hit, "Defending Jacob."
  • Viewers of the series aren't watching other Apple originals on the platform, though, Parrot data suggests.
  • Apple has recently bought old TV shows and movies to grow a library of licensed content, according to Bloomberg, but it may not be enough to break out in a crowded sea of streaming services with more bang for the buck. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With people stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, streaming is on the rise.

Disney Plus and Hulu are likely the services seeing the biggest gains in US subscribers since the outbreak began, according to a recent survey from TV analytics firm EDO (the former has gained over 54.5 million subscribers since launching in November, and the latter had more than 30 million as of February). And Netflix exceeded expectations in its Q1 earnings report last month, adding 15.8 million subscribers globally. It now has 183 million subscribers worldwide.

But the data isn't as clear cut for Apple TV Plus.

Data from the research company Antenna, which is based on a variety of anonymized transactional data sources (like credit card transactions), suggests that Apple TV Plus is the only major streaming service that hasn't surged in subscribers while people practice social distancing. Antenna said that Apple TV Plus sign-ups in March and April, when coronavirus guidelines were implemented, were no greater than February sign-ups.

But audiences might, however, be warming to Apple TV Plus' programming.

Data from Parrot Analytics provided to Business Insider suggests there's been increased "demand" for Apple TV Plus' original programming recently. The data company doesn't look at subscribers, but measures audience demand, which reflects viewership, engagement, and desire weighted by importance. The demand share in the US for Apple TV Plus' programming among other streamers had increased by more than 10% in the seven weeks after March 11.

"The impact the pandemic is having on audience demand has certainly helped Apple TV Plus so far," said Parrot Analytics partnerships director Steve Langdon, adding that "Defending Jacob," starring Chris Evans, had been a breakout hit for the platform.

In the six months since its debut, the service's content selection is slim, but there is high demand for what is available, according to Parrot.

Is that enough to grow a significant subscriber base?

It's unclear how many people are actually using Apple TV Plus

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, based on anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that about 10 million people had signed up for Apple TV Plus by February, but only half were actually using it.

Apple hasn't publicly revealed subscriber numbers. CEO Tim Cook has only said that Apple TV Plus was "off to a rousing start," as of January.

And while the Antenna data didn't specify exact subscriber numbers, the fact that they weren't increasing in recent months, as other streaming services have surged, does not bode well.

'Defending Jacob' is a hit, but it may not be enough to inspire growth

Despite a lack of surging subscribers, Apple TV Plus might have its first real hit.

Deadline recently reported that the latest Apple original series, "Defending Jacob," was Apple TV Plus' biggest premiere since the launch. According to Parrot Analytics, "Defending Jacob" has been more than 32 times more in demand than the average show in the US since premiering last month. But while "Defending Jacob" is popular with audiences, its viewers aren't watching other shows on the platform, Parrot Analytics said.

Some of Apple's original series have received lukewarm to downright bad reviews from critics, with some exceptions like "Little America."

"Defending Jacob" has a 70% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, while others are labeled "rotten," like "See" starring Jason Momoa (44%) and "Truth Be Told" starring Octavia Spencer (32%). Its initial flagship series, "The Morning Show," starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, debuted with poor reviews that slightly improved as the season progressed (it sits at a 60% critic score now). 

Apple was probably hoping for a better reception after heavily investing in such star-powered shows.

With few original programs available, even its biggest shows might not be enough to sustain a strong subscriber base. And with film and TV productions shut down across the entertainment industry due to the coronavirus, it's safe to assume second seasons of some of its high-profile series like "The Morning Show" will be delayed, leaving the service starving for more content.

Apple TV Plus is still a disappointing deal

At $4.99 per month, Apple TV Plus is the cheapest major streaming service available right now, but it's still a disappointing deal. The service's original releases have been few and far between and despite how popular "Defending Jacob" is with its users, it still doesn't have a "blockbuster" series like a "Witcher" (Netflix) or a "Mandalorian" (Disney Plus) to drive interest. 

Apple is taking some measures to potentially remedy these growth and content concerns.

The company has purchased some older movies and TV shows and have taken pitches from studios about licensing content, according to Bloomberg. It's the first of what would be licensed content for Apple TV Plus in a space where rivals like Netflix and Disney Plus have large libraries of it. And Deadline reported on Tuesday that the upcoming World War II movie "Greyhound," starring Tom Hanks, will skip its theatrical release and head straight to Apple TV Plus.

But with so many other options on the table — from existing streaming giants like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Hulu to upcoming competitors like WarnerMedia's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's Peacock — Apple TV Plus may struggle to break through the crowd even if Apple expands its content library.

SEE ALSO: The 8 streaming TV shows gaining the most buzz this week, from Hulu's 'The Great' to DC's 'Stargirl'

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Hertz files for bankruptcy as the coronavirus pandemic crushes the car-rental industry (HTZ)

Businessinsider - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 03:14

  • Hertz filed for bankruptcy Friday night after failing to reach an agreement with lenders, The Wall Street Journal first reported Friday.
  • Hertz has around $19 billion in debt, including $4.3 billion in corporate bonds and loans as well as $14.4 billion of debt backed by their vehicles, according to The Journal.
  • The car-rental business has been decimated as the pandemic has ground travel to a halt, forcing Hertz's CEO to resign as the company missed lease payments and laid off 10,000 workers last month.
  • Hertz's stock plunged in after-hours trading following the news.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Car-rental giant Hertz filed for bankruptcy Friday night after it was unable to reach an agreement with its biggest lenders, The Wall Street Journal first reported.

Hertz filed for Chapter 11 protections in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, making it one of the largest corporate casualties of the coronavirus pandemic's widespread economic fallout as travel restrictions decimate the rental car industry.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hertz has around $19 billion in debt, which includes roughly $4.3 billion in corporate bonds and loans as well as $14.4 billion of debt backed by the company's fleet of vehicles, and lenders had asked the company for upfront payment on some of those obligations but couldn't get it to agree, according to The Journal.

Hertz's business had already been struggling even before the pandemic as it tried to fend off competition from other rental agencies as well as ride-hailing businesses like Uber and Lyft.

In April, as travel ground to a halt, it laid off 10,000 workers — roughly 26% of its total workforce — and even put at least 20 identical yellow Corvette Z06s up for sale online at a steep discount as it tried to preserve cash.

CEO Kathryn Marinello resigned last Saturday, and the company's board of directors named Paul Stone, who previously served as the company's executive vice president and chief retail operations officer for North America, to step in for Marinello.

Hertz, whose parent company, Hertz Global Holdings Inc., also owns rental brands Dollar and Thrifty, had said in a regulatory filing in April that it was considering seeking bankruptcy protections after it "did not make certain payments" on its operating lease. Hertz said it "could be materially and negatively impacted" if discussions with lenders to reduce those payments weren't fruitful by the first week of May.

Hertz's stock dropped by as much as 50% in after-hours trading following the The Wall Street Journal's initial report that the company would file for bankruptcy on Friday night.

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Malta rescues 140 migrants, holds them on tourist boats offshore

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Malta has chartered tourist boats to hold migrants rescued by its patrols.
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Coronavirus in Kenya: 'I buried my cousin on Facebook Live'

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Heinrich Himmler: How a fake stamp led to the Nazi SS leader's capture

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Seventy-five years after his death, the Nazi SS leader's possessions are due to go on display in the UK.
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Coronavirus: Protective badges and cannabis claims fact-checked

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Coronavirus in the Maldives: The couple trapped on never-ending honeymoon

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Biden apology after saying black voters considering Trump 'ain't black'

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T-Mobile is outpacing the rest of the Big Four US carriers on value, loyalty, and satisfaction — here's what consumers say is most important when selecting a mobile provider (TMUS, S, VZ, T)

Businessinsider - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 02:04

This is a preview of a research report from Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service. This report is exclusively available to enterprise subscribers. To learn more about getting access to this report, email Senior Account Executive Jeff Jordan at jjordan@businessinsider.com, or check to see if your company already has access.

Although competition in the US wireless carrier market remains fierce, the price war among the Big Four US carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — began to cool over the past year.

In an attempt to avoid further competition on price, carriers began shifting their focus to adding value to their mobile plans with new offerings to differentiate from the competition. This helped average revenue per user (ARPU) start to stabilize across all carriers in Q1 2018, after declining over the last two years.

The Big Four have now begun reshuffling their unlimited plans to lure subscribers by providing more options. This strategy has been unrolling in two flavors: introducing new, expensive unlimited plan tiers loaded with an array of features and choices, while also catering to price-sensitive customers with more affordable plans that strip away extra perks like free digital content and international coverage. As a result, a new battleground is emerging, with differentiation now coming down to the value loaded in their mobile plans.

Looking forward, the US carrier market will see competitive pressure pick up due to a number of trends: 

  • The US smartphone market is creeping toward saturation. Penetration in the US hit 85% in 2018, up from 82% in 2017 and 77% in 2016.
  • eSIM technology is making it easier for consumers to switch carriers. eSIM technology is a nonphysical SIM card slot that pairs with the physical SIM card to enable dual-SIM functionality — allowing customers to switch carriers without changing to a different SIM card or device.
  • And cable mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are edging in on US carriers' share of wireless adds. Cable MVNOs, such as Comcast's Xfinity Mobile and Charter's Spectrum Mobile, are expected to snag roughly 50% of total wireless customer net adds, or about 2.2 million subscribers, by 2020.

All of this means fostering loyalty and winning over new subscribers is more important than ever for the Big Four, making it crucial for these mobile carriers to understand consumer sentiment around their services.

In this report, Business Insider Intelligence uses consumer survey data from our proprietary panel, collected during 2017 and 2018, to evaluate which features are most important to consumers when selecting a mobile provider, as well as to determine which features would convince them to switch to the competition. It contains insights that can help telecoms guide strategic investment and marketing decisions to win and retain customers in this increasingly competitive space.

The companies mentioned in the report are: AT&T, Amazon, Apple, Charter, Comcast, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sprint, T-Mobile, Tidal, and Verizon.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • T-Mobile came out on top again, outpacing the rest of the Big Four US carriers on value, loyalty, and satisfaction. T-Mobile customers want to see coverage improvements, though. 
  • Verizon customers don't see much more value in its offerings than a year ago.
  • AT&T was the only carrier to show declines in all capacities. 
  • Sprint is still a good deal, but it doesn't offer much else.
  • When it comes to features, subscribers still value the basics most. However, demand for international coverage is growing.
  • 5G is the next major battleground for the Big Four, and the winner of the 5G race has the potential to leap ahead in customer volumes. 

 In full, the report:

  • Determines the features that are most important to consumers when selecting a mobile provider.  
  • Identifies which features are nice to have or essential in consumers' willingness to switch carriers. 
  • Examines consumers' feelings on emerging technologies and trends in the mobile industry, such as 5G, new network-connected devices, and the T-Mobile-Sprint merger.
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SEE ALSO: 5G in the IoT: How the next generation of wireless technology will transform the IoT

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Week in pictures: 16-22 May 2020

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A selection of news photographs taken around the world this week.
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During Ramadan, Muslims feed those in need in virus-hit Texas

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AI IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Why carriers could lose out if they don't adopt AI fast — and where they can make the biggest gains

Businessinsider - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 01:03

In the face of rising demand for data, increasingly saturated mobile markets, and stiff opposition from legacy players, tech entrants, and startups, global telecoms are locked in a battle for market share. These market pressures have led to vicious price wars for mobile services and, as a result, declining average revenue per user (ARPU).

Making matters worse, improvements in infrastructure and technology have made telecoms largely comparable in terms of coverage, connection speeds, and service pricing, meaning companies must transform their businesses if they hope to compete.

For many global telecoms, shoring up market share under today's pressures while also future-proofing operations means having to invest in AI. The telecom industry is expected to invest $36.7 billion annually in AI software, hardware, and services by 2025, according to Tractica.

Through its ability to parse large data sets in a contextual manner, provide requested information or analysis, and trigger actions, AI can help telecoms cut costs and streamline by digitizing their operations. In practice, this means leveraging the increasingly vast gold mine of data generated by customers that passes through wireless networks — the amount of data that moves through AT&T's wireless network has increased 470,000% since 2007, for example. 

In the AI in Telecommunications report, Business Insider Intelligence will focus on the use of AI to enhance the customer experience, which can directly impact revenue. Each year, an estimated $62 billion is lost by US businesses after inferior customer experiences, according to NewVoiceMedia. We will discuss the forces driving firms to AI, pinpoint some of the top use cases of AI along the customer journey, and identify some of the leading companies in the space

The companies mentioned in this report are: AT&T, CenturyLink, China Mobile, IBM, Spectrum, Sprint, Swisscom, Telia, T-Mobile, and Vodafone.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Telecoms have long struggled with their customer experience image: In 2018, telecommunications had the lowest average Net Promoter Score (NPS), a measure of how favorably a company is viewed by customers, of any industry.
  • Companies that use advanced analytics, which can be accessed via AI, to improve this image and the overall customer experience are seeing revenue gains and cost reductions within a few years of adoption. 
  • Most (57%) executives believe that AI will transform their companies within three years, per Deloitte's State of AI in Enterprise. 
  • Overall, telecoms should focus on a hybrid organizational model to move beyond pilots to launch full-scale AI solutions that can have the biggest impact on their companies.

In full, the report:

  • Outlines what factors are leading telecoms to turn to AI technology. 
  • Describes the benefits of using AI in telecommunications. 
  • Highlights players that have successfully implemented AI solutions.
  • Discusses how telecoms should move forward with AI projects. 

Interested in getting the full report? Here are three ways to access it:

  1. Purchase & download the full report from our research store. >> Purchase & Download Now
  2. Subscribe to a Premium pass to Business Insider Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report and more than 250 other expertly researched reports. As an added bonus, you'll also gain access to all future reports and daily newsletters to ensure you stay ahead of the curve and benefit personally and professionally. >> Learn More Now
  3. Current subscribers can read the report here.

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Michigan Muslims find new ways to celebrate Eid amid a pandemic

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Muslims in the US state say they're 'mentally prepared for a COVID Eid, but it’s still very challenging'.
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Chips are down as Las Vegas prepares to reopen

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Video of cabinet meeting puts Brazil's Bolsonaro under fire

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Spellers' advice for concentrating on work in lockdown

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