Maezawa wants you: Japan billionaire seeks ‘crew’ for moon trip

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on Wednesday launched a search for eight people to join him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

He had originally planned to invite artists for the weeklong voyage slated for 2023.

The rejigged project will “give more people from around the globe the chance to join this journey. If you see yourself as an artist, then you are an artist,” Maezawa said.

The first stage of the application process runs to March 14.

The entrepreneur, who sold his online fashion business Zozo Inc to SoftBank in 2019, is paying the entire cost of the voyage on SpaceX’s next-generation reusable launch vehicle, dubbed the Starship.

Two recent prototypes have exploded during testing, underscoring the risks for Maezawa, 45, and his fellow passengers, who must also contend with the strains of space travel in the first private journey beyond Earth’s orbit.

“This mission we expect people will go further than any human has ever gone from Planet Earth,” Musk said, days after SpaceX completed its latest $850 million fundraising, which has helped turn the businessman into one of the world’s richest people.

Maezawa is known for his art and supercar collections, and the cash giveaways that have made him Japan’s most-followed Twitter account.

Last year he launched a short-lived documentary search for a new girlfriend to join him on the trip before pulling out citing “mixed feelings.”

By: Sam Nussey

Bitcoin: Elon Musk loses world’s richest title as Tesla falters

Tesla boss Elon Musk has lost his title as the world’s richest person after a recent slide in the electric carmaker’s shares, the main driver of his wealth.

Tesla shares have tumbled more than 20% since hitting a high of more than $880 in early January.

The fall comes as the firm has been hit with criticism from Chinese regulators and revealed a risky $1.5bn (£1bn) investment in Bitcoin.

The value of the cryptocurrency jumped nearly 50% after the disclosure.

But since rising above $57,000 on Sunday, Bitcoin has dropped nearly 20%. It was trading at less than $48,000 on Tuesday.

While that might not have hurt Tesla – Bitcoin is still worth more than it was when the firm disclosed its bet – the risks associated with the volatile cryptocurrency could have prompted some investors to sell, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said.

Tesla charging points at a Shanghai mall

“By Musk and Tesla aggressively embracing Bitcoin… investors are starting to tie Bitcoin and Tesla at the hip,” he said.

“The recent 48-hour sell-off in Bitcoin and added volatility has driven some investors to the exits on this name in the near-term.”

What is causing the Bitcoin sell-off?

Mr Musk was credited with helping to fuel Bitcoin’s rise, when Tesla revealed it had purchased $1.5bn of the currency and planned to accept it as payment. Now he may have himself to blame for some of the recent Bitcoin declines. 

In an exchange on Twitter over the weekend Mr Musk wrote that the price of Bitcoin did “seem high lol”.

Also driving Bitcoin lower were comments from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who sounded a warning on Bitcoin on Monday. She called it an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions”.

The comments follow a recent surge of interest in Bitcoin, after major US firms such as Mastercard and Bank of NY Mellon followed Tesla’s lead in announcing plans to incorporate the digital currency into their operations.

What else is affecting Tesla?

Mr Musk’s attention to Bitcoin comes as Tesla faces other challenges. 

The firm recently halted most sales of the lowest-priced version of its Model Y SUV, with Mr Musk citing a desire to improve the car’s range.

Earlier this month, Chinese regulators summoned the firm over safety and quality issues, stemming from reports of battery fires and abnormal acceleration.

Five Chinese regulators have recently summoned Tesla over quality and safety issues.
image captionChina is Tesla’s biggest source of sales after the United States

Rival carmakers such as General Motors and Volkswagen have also stepped up their focus on electric vehicles in recent months.

Shares in the electric carmaker Tesla are currently the biggest source of Mr Musk’s wealth. Their rapid rise first propelled him past Amazon boss Jeff Bezos in the world’s richest ranking in January, with the two billionaires vying for the top spot in the weeks since. 

Monday’s decline in share price was the biggest fall seen since September and wiped more than $15bn off Mr Musk’s net worth, according to Bloomberg.

Mr Musk’s tweets have also famously triggered sharp moves in Tesla shares, including last summer when the firm lost $14bn in market value after he wrote that its share price was too high.

Elon Musk says bitcoin is slightly better than holding cash

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk on Thursday said that owning bitcoin was only a little better than holding conventional cash, but that the slight difference made it a better asset to hold.

“However, when fiat currency has negative real interest, only a fool wouldn’t look elsewhere,” Musk said in a tweet. “Bitcoin is almost as bs as fiat money. The key word is ‘almost’.”

He also defended Tesla’s action to invest in bitcoin, saying that the difference with cash made it “adventurous enough” for the S&P 500 company to hold the cryptocurrency.

Tesla’s $1.5 billion bitcoin purchase set the cryptocurrency soaring toward this week’s record peak above $50,000 while Musk’s recent promotion of dogecoin on Twitter also lifted the price of that cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin was steady just below a record peak of $51,284 on Friday.

Elon Musk wants clean power. But Tesla’s carrying bitcoin’s dirty baggage

Reuters – Tesla boss Elon Musk is a poster child of low-carbon technology. Yet the electric carmaker’s backing of bitcoin this week could turbo-charge global use of a currency that’s estimated to cause more pollution than a small country every year.

Tesla Inc revealed on Monday it had bought $1.5 billion of bitcoin and would soon accept it as payment for cars, sending the price of the cryptocurrency though the roof.

So what’s the problem, you may ask? Bitcoin’s virtual, so it’s not like it’s made from paper or plastic, or even metal.

The digital currency is created when high-powered computers compete against other machines to solve complex mathematical puzzles, an energy-intensive process that currently often relies on fossil fuels, particularly coal, the dirtiest of them all.

At current rates, such bitcoin “mining” devours about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, the latest available data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency shows.

Bitcoin production is estimated to generate between 22 and 22.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka, according to a 2019 study in scientific journal Joule.

The landmark inclusion of the cryptocurrency in Tesla’s investment portfolio could complicate the company’s zero-emissions ethos, according to some investors, at a time when ESG – environmental, social and governance – considerations have become a major factor for global investors.

“We are of course very concerned about the level of carbon dioxide emissions generated from bitcoin mining,” said Ben Dear, CEO of Osmosis Investment Management, a sustainable investor managing around $2.2 billion in assets that holds Tesla stock in several portfolios.

“We hope that when Tesla’s bitcoin ventures are over, they will concentrate on measuring and disclosing to their market their full suite of environmental factors, and if they continue to buy or indeed start mining bitcoin, that they include the relevant energy consumption data in these disclosures.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Still, it’s not all eco-doom and gloom, and Tesla’s bet on bitcoin comes amid growing attempts in the cryptocurrency industry to mitigate the environmental harm of mining. This movement could be advanced by billionaire entrepreneur Musk, who this week separately offered $100 million for inventions that could pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or oceans.

The entrance of big corporations into the crypto market could also boost incentives to produce “green bitcoin” using renewable energy, some sustainability experts say. They add that companies could buy carbon credits to compensate too.

Yet in the shorter term, Tesla’s disclosure of its bitcoin investment, made in a securities filing, could indirectly serve to exacerbate the environmental costs of mining.

Other companies are likely to follow its lead by buying into the currency, investors and industry experts say. Greater demand, and higher prices, lead to more miners competing to solve puzzles in the fastest time to win coin, using increasingly powerful computers that need more energy.

“It’s (bitcoin) not a sustainable investment and it’s hard to make it sustainable with the kind of system it is built on,” said Sanna Setterwall, a consultant at corporate sustainability advisory South Pole.

CAN TESLA TURN BITCOIN GREEN?

Estimates on bitcoin’s reliance on fossil fuels versus renewables vary, with detailed data on the bitcoin mining industry’s energy mix hard to come by.

Projects from Canada to Siberia are striving for ways to wean bitcoin mining away from fossil fuels, or at least to reduce its carbon footprint, and make the currency more palatable to mainstream investors.

SJ Oh, a former bitcoin trader based in Hong Kong and a self-professed “tree-hugger”, was aware that his passion for the environment was somewhat at odds with his day job. So a year ago he co-founded Pow.re, a firm that runs green bitcoin mining operations in the Canadian subarctic.

Located in Labrador, Pow.re’s machines run on hydropower, with plans to repurpose the heat generated by the mining to serve local agriculture, heating and other needs, he said.

“Overwhelmingly, I do think there will be a concerted effort by the bitcoin industry to be environmentally friendly,” said Oh, who believes Musk and his company can come up with better methods.

“Tesla is one of the greenest companies on the planet so I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”

Other projects aimed at reducing bitcoin’s carbon impact include that run by an arm of Russian gas producer Gazprom in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia.

There, power generated by flare gas – a by-product from oil extraction usually burned off – is used for cryptocurrency mining. The process leaves a lower carbon footprint than coal power, said Gazprom Neft, the unit behind the project.

In theory, blockchain analysis firms say, it is possible to track the source of bitcoin, raising the possibility that a premium could be charged for green bitcoin. Stronger climate change policies by governments around the world might also help.

“It’s not so much bitcoin that is the problem.” said Yves Bennaim, the founder of 2B4CH, a Switzerland-based cryptocurrency think-tank.

“People are saying it’s energy intensive therefore it’s polluting, but that is just the nature of the energy we are using today. As bitcoin goes up there will be more incentive to make investments in renewable sources of energy.”

Some bitcoin proponents note, meanwhile, that the existing financial system with its millions of employees and computers in air-conditioned offices uses large amounts of energy too.

‘OBJECTIVE IS MAKING PROFIT’

However it is early days for such green projects, and some ESG experts say bitcoin could have a tough task being accepted by mainstream investors en masse in the foreseeable future.

“I still think the big players will refrain from bitcoin for these particular reasons – one being very a negative climate angle to it, given the way it’s mined, and two, the compliance and ethical issues related to it,” said Sasja Beslik, head of sustainable business development at Bank J. Safra Sarasin in Zurich.

Some industry players and academics warn that the dominance of Chinese miners and lack of motivation to swap cheap fossil fuels for more expensive renewables means there are few quick fixes to the emissions problem.

Chinese miners account for about 70% of bitcoin production, data from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance shows. They tend to use renewable energy – mostly hydropower – during the rainy summer months, but fossil fuels – primarily coal – for the rest of the year.

“Every miner’s objective is making a profit, so they don’t care about what kind of energy they use, if it is generated by hydro, wind, solar or burning coal,” said Jack Liao, CEO of Chinese mining firm LightningAsic, adding that government incentives for miners to favor renewable energy might help.

Others are less optimistic that significant change is on the horizon.

“Production of renewables is extremely volatile, it’s not ideal as a consistent form of power,” said Alex De Vries, the founder of research platform Digiconomist.

“The problem is that the miners that will last the longest will be the ones using cheap fossil fuels, simply because it is the cheapest and more stable source.”

Elon Musk’s banter with Robinhood CEO triggers stampede for Clubhouse app

A surprise chat between tech billionaire Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev on new audio-based social network Clubhouse has helped propel the app to the top of the startup charts and sparked a scramble for invitations to the exclusive service.

The interaction between the two entrepreneurs on the platform on Sunday came amid intense interest in news around Robinhood, the online brokerage caught up in a wild stockmarket battle between retail investors and big Wall Street funds.

Demand for invitations to the less-than-a-year-old service — members get to invite a limited number of friends during its pre-launch period — is so hot, a market for them has grown on platforms like Reddit, eBay, and Craigslist.

In China, invitations are being sold on Alibaba’s second-hand market place Idle Fish, even though Clubhouse isn’t available in Apple’s app store in that country.

In Japan investors, tech workers and the media have swarmed the service.

As of Tuesday, data analytics firm Sensor Tower said there were about 3.6 million installs worldwide for the app–only available on Apple’s iPhone–with 1.1 million of them coming in the last six days.

Investors were so eager for a piece of the action that at one point on Monday they pushed up shares in Clubhouse Media Group [CMGR.PK], a completely unrelated stock, by 117%.

Chinese tech firm Agora Inc, listed on Nasdaq, saw its shares jump 30% on media reports that it may be a technology partner to Clubhouse. Agora declined to comment while a Clubhouse spokeswoman declined to comment on questions about technology partners.

The San Francisco-based company’s latest round of financing in Jan. 24 valued the company at $1 billion, a source familiar with the matter said. The funding was led by Andreessen Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

CLUBBY

Amid the buzz, Clubhouse has also drawn backlash from those who criticize the closed-door nature of chats like the one between Musk and Tenev.

Jessica Lessin, editor-in-chief of tech news outlet The Information tweeted that Marc Andreessen, a founding partner of Andreessen Horowitz, which also backs Robinhood, had blocked many reporters from listening in on Musk’s talk.

The chat between Musk and Tenev took place on a regular Clubhouse event called “The Good Time Show.”

Andreessen Horowitz didn’t reply to Reuters’ request for comment on this issue.

However, Clubhouse CEO Paul Davidson told Bloomberg TV on Monday event hosts could choose who is allowed to listen, underscoring concerns about the clubby nature of the app.

Andreessen Horowitz separately said in a blog in January that it was launching new “media property,” adding to its already active podcasting and blogging activities.

Clubhouse aspires to make the app widely available, and foresees business opportunities in subscriptions or tickets to events like the one Musk starred in.

It will have to contend with moderating the kind of site abuses, from hate speech to harassment, that major social media platforms face. Clubhouse has been criticized over reports of harassment and hate speech in its rooms, some of which are private and some public.

A spokeswoman for the app said it has already banned some individual users from the platform for violating its rules but declined to share more details.

The company has said it does not allow racism, hate speech, sexism and abuse on the network, though it says it does allow “general rudeness.” It has said users who found clubs on the app will be able to set rules for their communities.

The Clubhouse spokeswoman said it currently has about 10 staff. The company has said it is investing in tools that detect and prevent abuse as well as features for users to moderate.

Musk’s SpaceX violated its launch license in explosive Starship test – The Verge

SpaceX’s first high-altitude test flight of its Starship rocket, which exploded last month while attempting to land after an otherwise successful test launch, violated the terms of its Federal Aviation Administration test license, the Verge reported on Friday, citing sources.

An investigation was opened that week focusing on the explosive landing and on SpaceX’s refusal to stick to the terms of what the FAA authorized, the Verge said.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Starship rocket destroyed in the accident was a 16-storey-tall prototype for the heavy-lift launch vehicle being developed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private space company to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

The self-guided rocket blew up as it touched down on a landing pad following a controlled descent. The test flight had been intended to reach an altitude of 41,000 feet, propelled by three of SpaceX’s newly developed Raptor engines for the first time.

But the company left unclear whether the rocket had flown that high.

The FAA said it would evaluate additional information provided by SpaceX as part of its application to modify its launch license.

“We will approve the modification only after we are satisfied that SpaceX has taken the necessary steps to comply with regulatory requirements,” it said in a statement.

Source: Reuters

Tesla reports record deliveries but shares drop

Tesla reported record deliveries in the fourth quarter, boosted by increased demand for electric vehicles.

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks onstage during a delivery event for Tesla China-made Model 3 cars at its factory in Shanghai, China January 7, 2020.
image captionTesla is led by billionaire Elon Musk

But its shares fell in after-hours trading after profit fell short of analyst expectations.

While many car firms were hit hard in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, Tesla bucked the trend.

Its shares surged nearly 700% over the year, making it the world’s most valuable carmaker.

Governments around the world have been “setting tougher targets for switching to electric vehicles”, helping to increase interest in Tesla, said Rebecca Crook, chief growth officer at digital agency Somo.

“Tesla had an incredibly successful 2020, joining the likes of Amazon as the unofficial ‘winners’ of a turbulent year,” she said.

“It’s been a challenging past 12 months for car manufacturers,” she said. “It’s critical for Tesla to maintain this momentum because its success sends optimism into the wider automotive industry.”

Tesla, which is led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, saw steady sales and profitable quarters in 2020 as other car manufacturers were hit by the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

But the race is on in the car industry to develop electric vehicles to meet emissions targets and challenge Tesla’s market lead.

The company delivered 180,570 vehicles in the fourth quarter, a quarterly record, even though it narrowly missed its overall 2020 goal of half a million deliveries.

Net income, excluding share-based compensation payouts to Mr Musk, rose to $903m (£660m) from $386m last year, falling short of average analyst expectations for a $1.08bn quarterly profit.

This combined with a lack of a clear target for 2021 vehicle deliveries sent shares down 3% in after-hours trade. Investors had hoped for a significant increase over the company’s 2020 delivery goal of half a million vehicles.

“Over a multi-year horizon, we expect to achieve 50% average annual growth in vehicle deliveries. In some years we may grow faster, which we expect to be the case in 2021,” Tesla said in a statement.

SpaceX: World record number of satellites launched

A new world record has been set for the number of satellites sent to space on a single rocket.

Rideshare dispenser
image captionArtwork: The targeted orbit was 500km above the Earth

The 143 payloads, of all shapes and sizes, rode to orbit on a SpaceX Falcon rocket that launched out of Florida.

The number beats the previous record of 104 satellites carried aloft by an Indian vehicle in 2017.

It’s further evidence of the major structural changes taking place in space activity that are allowing many more actors to get involved.

This shift is the result of a revolution in robust, miniaturised, low-cost components – many taken direct from consumer electronics such as smartphones – that mean pretty much anyone can now build a capable satellite in a very small package.

And with SpaceX offering to transport those packages to orbit for just $1m, the commercial opportunities will continue to open up.

A plume of gas and ash rising above Santa María - a stratovolcano that towers above Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
image captionGuatemala’s Santa María volcano: Planet is imaging the entire Earth daily with its Dove satellites

SpaceX itself had 10 satellites on the Falcon – the latest additions to its Starlink telecommunications mega-constellation, which is going to deliver broadband internet connections around the globe.

San Francisco’s Planet company had the most satellites of all on the flight – 48.

These were another batch of its SuperDove models that image the Earth’s surface daily at a resolution of 3-5m. The new spacecraft take the firm’s operational fleet now in orbit to more than 200.

SpaceBee
image caption”Internet of things”: SpaceBees will connect to all manner of objects on the ground

The SuperDoves are the size of a shoebox. Many of the other payloads on the Falcon rocket were little bigger than a coffee mug, however; and some were smaller even than a paperback book.

Swarm Technologies is rolling out what it calls the SpaceBees. They’re just 10cm by 10cm by 2.5cm.

They’ll act as telecommunications nodes to connect devices that are attached to all manner of objects on the ground, from migrating animals to shipping containers. 

Some of the larger items on the Falcon rocket were suitcase-sized. Among these were several radar satellites. Radar has been one of the major beneficiaries of the revolution in componentry.

Traditionally, radar satellites were big, multi-tonne objects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fly, which essentially meant only the military or major space agencies could afford to operate them.

But the adoption of new materials and compact “off the shelf” parts have dramatically shrunk the size (to under 100kg) and price (a couple of million dollars) of these spacecraft.

Artwork: Radar satellite
image captioniQPS artwork: The radar satellites unfurl large antennas once they are in space

Iceye from Finland, Capella and Umbra from the US, and iQPS of Japan all took the ride to orbit on Sunday. These start-ups are establishing constellations in the sky that will return rapid, repeat imagery of the Earth.

Radar has the advantage over standard optical cameras of being able to pierce cloud, and to sense the Earth’s surface whether it is day or night. We’re entering an age when any change on the planet, wherever it happens, will be picked up almost immediately.

The Falcon carried the 143 satellites into a 500km-high path that runs from pole to pole. This is one of the drawbacks of a big rideshare mission: you go where the rocket goes, and for some that might not be ideal. 

A number of satellite missions will want an orbit that’s higher or lower in the sky, or on a different inclination to the equator.

This can be achieved by mounting the satellites on “space tugs” which, after coming off the top of the rocket, modify the final parameters for their “passengers” over the course of several weeks. Sunday’s Falcon carried two such tugs.

But for some missions a bespoke ride is going to be the only satisfactory solution. It’s why we’re now witnessing a rush to produce small rockets that can run dedicated flights.media captionWATCH: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket blasts its way to space

These smaller rockets will not be able to compete on cost with the big vehicles, such as SpaceX’s Falcon-9, but they should attract the custom of those with very specific or urgent needs.

Dan Hart, the CEO of Virgin Orbit, which has developed a small rocket that can be launched from under the wing of a Boeing 747, says the start-ups are becoming more discerning.

“These small satellites used to be points of fascination and interest, and it was a case of finding the cheapest way possible to get into space,” he explained. 

“That’s rapidly changing. These are now businesses with critical missions that risk losing revenue if they have to wait on others or go into an unsuitable orbit. And that’s why you’re going to see people who will pay that little bit more to get to where they want to go when they absolutely need to go there,” he told BBC News.

Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent

Elon Musk invited to invest in Swindon

The world’s richest person has been invited to consider setting up a new manufacturing site in Swindon

Leader of the town’s borough council David Renard has written to Elon Musk, owner of the Tesla car company, asking him to consider opening a factory there.

Mr Renard suggested the Honda factory site, set to close in July 2021.

Mr Musk also owns Space X which aims to deliver broadband internet around the world, using 42,000 satellites.

Honda site Swindon
image captionThe Honda manufacturing plant is set to close in July 2021

In the letter to Mr Musk, Mr Renard said he would like to “draw your attention” to the Honda site. 

He called it a “prime site” with good transport links and said the “biggest selling point” might be Honda’s 5,000-strong workforce which would need to find new employment when the plant closes.

Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for the town centre, said writing to Mr Musk was in his list of new year resolutions, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

Honda said it was closing its site due to global changes in the car industry and the need to launch electric vehicles.

Jim Grant, the borough council’s Labour group leader, said he applauded the approach to Mr Musk and said “every opportunity” should be taken to bring jobs to the town.

But he added: “I am concerned, however, that this has more to do with publicising the Tory council itself than a serious approach to Tesla. 

“Honda itself is keen on privacy, and I suspect Elon Musk and Tesla probably prefer to do such negotiations out of the public eye.”

Elon Musk’s Starlink given green light in UK

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service is already being used by a handful of people across the UK.

The company began rolling out a limited trial last month, it has emerged, after Ofcom granted it a licence in November. 

It will compete against providers such as OneWeb, which government investment controversially saved from bankruptcy in November. 

Telecom analysts said the competition could help drive down the price of satellite broadband for consumers.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma had to issue a “ministerial direction” to push forward the investment in OneWeb, after civil servants stated their objection, with critics questioning why ministers would invest so much money in what remains a risky venture. 

Mr Musk plans to deliver broadband internet around the world, using 42,000 satellites. 

His Space X company has launched more than 800 into orbit already and hopes to have 12,000 in the sky by 2026. 

Starlink began testing its small satellite dishes, dubbed Dishy McFlatFace, in North America and Canada. 

UK consumers will pay £439 for the gear and a further £84 a month to receive Starlink’s broadband. 

“The early pricing we’ve seen is probably too high for mass adoption,” telecoms analyst Matthew Howett told BBC News. 

“However, the likely competition between Starlink and OneWeb might help it become a more affordable option for consumers.”

Remote-area connectivity

Zen Internet founder Richard Tang said the service could also benefit those living in remote areas of the UK. 

“It could help to alleviate the UK’s remote-area connectivity issue and support those in the middle of nowhere who can’t get conventional high-speed broadband.”

Last month, MPs warned the government would fail to achieve a target of offering 1Gbps-capable broadband to 85% of the UK by 2025.

Initially, it had aimed for nationwide coverage within five years.

But that targets was scaled back after it emerged only 25% of the promised £5bn funding would be available, at least for the next four years.