NASA Chooses Three Landers to Return Americans to the Moon

It’s been nearly half a century since the U.S. had a spacecraft capable of landing human beings on the moon. As of today, it has not one, but three—if everything goes right.

NASA officials announced on April 30, in a teleconference with space-industry leaders, the three finalists it has chosen to build the 21st century version of the Apollo-era’s well loved lunar excursion module (LEM), the four-legged, gold-foil, so-ugly-it-was-beautiful machine that landed six crews on the surface of the moon from 1969 to 1972. Unlike the LEM, which was effectively designed by NASA and then built to order by the Grumman corporation, the new landers are being designed entirely by private companies, which will then compete to prove to NASA that theirs is the ship the agency should pick.

The company names were announced alphabetically at the teleconference, but the first one called out—Blue Origin, of Kent, Washington, founded and owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos—might be the best bet for success anyway. Blue Origin is working with three other companies (Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Draper) to design a two-stage lander similar to the LEM. The LEM landed on the moon in a single piece and the astronauts then blasted back off in just the vehicle’s upper portion, using the bottom half as a sort of launch platform.

The second company, Dynetics, of Huntsville, Alabama, is proposing to simplify things, building a one-stage vehicle that will land in a single piece and take back off that way. The third contender, SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, California, submitted the most audacious proposal: its much-touted, 50-meter (160-foot) tall, 100-passenger Starship spacecraft, which it would launch atop its own 68-meter (223-foot) tall Falcon Super Heavy rocket. Once at the moon, the Starship would land and take off in a single piece using its own set of engines.

“We want to be a customer,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on the teleconference, stressing that the responsibility for designing the hardware and delivering the goods lies with the finalists. “We want to drive down the costs and increase access to space. This little agency is moving forward.”

But the little agency needs a lot of money. For the Trump Administration to reach its target of having astronauts back on the moon by 2024, NASA will need a funding boost of $3 billion—to $25 billion total—in 2022, with additional bumps that bring it up to $26 billion and $27 billion in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

That’s a big ask given years of flat funding for the U.S. space program, but NASA is hoping to benefit from Congress opening its wallets to help keep the economy afloat during coronavirus pandemic. Without that money, NASA will be unable to fund the lunar lander, or the Orion crew vehicle and the Space Launch System—the modern-day version of the Apollo orbiter and the Saturn V rocket—that will also be necessary to bring humans to the moon.

What’s more, NASA may wind up needing money to pay for the services of more than one of the three contending lander groups. Over the course of the next 10 months, the teams will be refining their plans, and, in the process, pitching their wares, with an eye toward February of 2021, when NASA will choose a winner. But the ostensible losers may eventually fly anyway.

NASA is stressing both speed—getting to the moon by 2024—and sustainability, going there to stay, rather than making the brief Apollo-style visits that have since been disparagingly dubbed the “flags and footprints” model. In the same way NASA will be paying both SpaceX and Boeing to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station, so too it might pay for the services of a company that is not chosen to build the lunar lander, but goes on to develop its own moon capability anyway.

By Jeffrey Kluger April 30, 2020 6:09 PM EDT

Source: NASA Chooses Three Landers to Return Americans to the Moon

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Digital Transformation Will Change Manufacturing As We Know It

Turning the challenges of manufacturing into new opportunities for success with digital transformation.

The global manufacturing world seems to be travelling back in time. Large production plants and long assembly lines, where goods were mass produced in hundreds and thousands, may become a thing of the past. Instead we are witnessing a growing demand for products that are highly-customized to the needs of individual end customers. This is much like the years preceding the First Industrial Revolution when each product was painstakingly crafted by hand.

But this time, something is about to change.

Instead of workers spending hours creating made-to-order products, industry can now quickly produce millions of goods, in smaller and smaller batch sizes, without compromising on quality or productivity. This transformation is possible in a data-driven digital ecosystem powered by connected devices and solutions that maximize the potential from existing infrastructure.

Simply put, the digital transformation of businesses allows to capitalize on the benefits of digital tools such as smart sensors, cloud computing and the Internet to add value to existing manufacturing processes. Digitalizing a production process opens fresh opportunities by gathering meaningful insights that can be analyzed to better understand the condition of each and every individual piece of equipment. Sensors on a machine continuously track its status and can immediately alert operators in the case of an anomaly in normal working parameters. Digitalization enables operators to move from reacting to incidents on the shop floor to proactively maintaining their equipment to avoid unplanned downtime. This gives manufacturers the ability to meet increasingly demanding deadlines even while producing a greater mix of products.

Building a digital ecosystem

In a world of ever-growing complexity and competition, digitalization can offer a quick boost to the productivity of industrial equipment. Something as simple as installing a sensor on heat-sensitive machines, such as a welding robot, can help an operator to track temperature variations to ensure that the optimum temperature is maintained for the most flawless weld from the robot. Gaining increased transparency of processes in a factory not only leads to higher productivity, but also potentially helps to save significant resources due to fewer unplanned outages and can increase the lifecycle and decrease the power consumption of equipment.

Of course, the greatest value of the digital transformation of industries can be achieved when every piece of equipment along the value chain is connected. Be it directly on the shop floor or through the Industrial Internet of Things. Digitally connected assets that understand the information being passed around the shop floor can interact autonomously, lending a whole new dimension of efficiency and autonomy to industries.

The right digital strategy to choose

The statistics around digital transformation are highly encouraging. A 2019 report by market research firm IDC estimated that direct investment in digital transformation would approach a staggering $7.4 trillion between now and 20231. But on the flipside, it is not uncommon to see digital transformation strategies failing to reach their goals as companies struggle to find the right approach and trained employees who can take on the challenge of a complete recast of their business models.

For some six decades now, ABB has been at the forefront of developing and deploying technology for digital manufacturing. Just one example is the introduction of the world`s first digitally controlled robot in the year 1974. Today, ABB as a technology leader is driving the digital transformation of industries. It masters all elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that represents the next wave of innovations including IIoT, artificial intelligence and modular manufacturing to support both big and small businesses. For instance, artificial intelligence is at the heart of a solution that ABB has co-created with Microsoft to help a Nordic salmon fishery remotely track its fish population, thereby reducing the need for human intervention and ultimately making the production of over 70,000 tons of salmon a year more sustainable.

Digital transformation in real-time

One of the cornerstones of digital transformations and the factory of the future is the ability to act in real time, which allows companies to quickly respond to issues before they become problems. That is why I believe that progress that ABB has made with its telecommunication partners Ericsson and Swisscom in the field of 5G communications is so exciting.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ABB’s collaborative YuMi robot carved a message in a sandbox that was replicated at the same time by a second YuMi robot located 1.5 km away. This demonstration of low latency communication over long distances enabled by 5G can help bring future concepts of more flexible and modular manufacturing to reality. 5G networks over a specified area can connect thousands of automated guided vehicles that move around the factory floor bringing essential parts to production hubs within a very short time.

Much like mass production; paper designs and traditional 2D schematics will find fewer users as the industrial world becomes more digital. Taking their place are concepts like digital twins where a fully functional virtual image of a physical asset is created to help operators iron out details such as to test the interaction of a machine with its surroundings. Digital twins allow businesses avoid losing time in perfecting and testing out product prototypes or modifications and potentially reducing production costs.

A digital transformation of its own kind is happening in industrial services. Advanced monitoring solutions, such as ABB AbilityTM Connected Services, are helping companies monitor their assets in many sites on one system. Connected Services applied to ABB’s robots can help businesses monitor the condition of their fleet, diagnose anomalies, remotely operate them, help plan maintenance schedules by prioritizing the hardest working robots and provide a backup management so as to enable easy and fast recovery from a systems crash or from unwanted changes.

Enhancing efficiency and productivity, reducing unwanted incidents and creating a more reliable manufacturing process using digital transformation ultimately reduces the consumption of resources and helps build a more sustainable manufacturing process. We are at a point in time where we have come to understand that digitalization is not just a passing fad or a privilege of large companies, but a fundamental element of the future of industries.

1 Source:

Bazmi Husain is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of ABB.

Source: Digital Transformation Will Change Manufacturing As We Know It

Rico Dittrich graduated in International Politics and History from Jacobs University, Bremen, before moving to Ireland to make ends meet by testing video games. Rico changed companies and joined Google and went on to troubleshoot large customers’ issues with some of Google’s most technical and advanced digital analytics services. He currently works as Digital Analytics Specialist at Google, collaborating with large German retailers to set them up for the future of online measurement, attribution and automation. He has lived in six countries, across three continents, in the last six years and is fluent in German, English, and Spanish. At TEDxUniPaderborn 2017, Rico spoke on the topic “The difficulty of digital transformation & how to make it happen”. Born and raised in Germany, Rico Dittrich graduated in International Politics and History from Jacobs University, Bremen, before moving to Ireland to make ends meet by testing video games. Rico changed companies and joined Google and went on to troubleshoot large customers’ issues with some of Google’s most technical and advanced digital analytics services. He currently works as Digital Analytics Specialist at Google, collaborating with large German retailers to set them up for the future of online measurements, attributions and automation. He has lived in six countries, across three continents, in the last six years and is fluent in German, English, and Spanish. At TEDxUniPaderborn 2017, Rico will be speaking on the topic “Why Digital Transformation Is So Difficult and How to Make It Happen”. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Plane Talk: 737 MAX In Focus For Boeing Q2, With F-35 Top Of Mind At Lockheed

Getty Images
Getty Images

Key Takeaways:

  • Lockheed and Boeing are reporting Tuesday and Wednesday
  • Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX likely to be in spotlight
  • Lockheed navigating geopolitical issues

It’s a tale of two planes this week as Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) earnings line up on the runway.

After months of grappling with 737 MAX troubles, Boeing (BA) doesn’t seem likely to get much of a lift from earnings season when it reports Wednesday. Thanks to BA’s announcement last week of a nearly $5 billion charge related to the situation, some of the financial mystery surrounding the crisis is out of the way as earnings approach.

At LMT, geopolitics are a potential challenge for sales of the popular F-35 jet fighter and might be a discussion point on its earnings call Tuesday.

Boeing Quarter to See No Contribution from Key Airliner

For BA, Q2 is the first this year to fully reflect the complete grounding of the troubled 737-MAX plane after two deadly crashes.

Last Thursday, Boeing said it will record an after-tax charge of $4.9 billion, or $8.74 per share, connected with its estimate for potential concessions and other considerations to customers for disruptions. This charge will result in a $5.6 billion reduction of revenue and pre-tax earnings in the quarter. The entire estimated amount will be recognized as a charge in Q2.

The good news—if you can find any in a situation like this—is that BA also said it expects to get the plane back into service by early in Q4, which is earlier than some analysts had expected. Before BA’s announcement, some media reports speculated it wouldn’t get into the air again until next year. Also, the charges might look relatively small compared to BA’s $210 billion market capitalization.

Big Drop in Q2 Deliveries for Boeing

Maybe even harder to swallow for BA and its investors is the competitive impact of the crisis. Deliveries of BA’s airliners slid 37% in Q2, even as Europe’s Airbus (EADSY)—the world’s other leading aircraft manufacturer—made solid strides.

Airbus said it delivered 389 planes in the first half, up 28% from 303 a year earlier. It’s on pace to deliver a record number of planes this year. Meanwhile, BA’s deliveries went the wrong way in the first six months of 2019, falling to 239, from 378 a year earlier. Deliveries of the company’s 737 model fell by more than half.

BA reported no orders of the 737-MAX in June for the third-straight month since the separate crashes that killed 346 passengers earlier this year and in 2018. The company continues to work through software issues with the troubled jet, including another flight control issue involving failure of a microprocessor announced by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month.

BA’s earnings conference call is probably going to sound more like a “737-MAX” conference call, so consider listening closely for any updates on fixes to the jet. Some analysts say BA is doing the right thing by not focusing too much on timetables and emphasizing a quality outcome over timing.

Even if BA can satisfy the government that it’s taken all the necessary steps to make the plane safe again, airlines would need more than a month in many cases to get the planes back into flying condition, The Wall Street Journal reported recently. Several airlines have now pushed back their estimates of when they can get the 737 MAX back into their rotations, with Southwest (LUV) the latest to do so. Last week, LUV pulled the plane off of its flight schedule into early November, a month longer than it had expected in June. LUV is the largest U.S. operator of the jet.

BA’s Q1 earnings report barely reflected the 737-MAX issue, because the plane wasn’t grounded until nearly the end of that quarter. In Q2, it was on the tarmac for all three months, so now investors can get a sense of the full impact.

However, even in Q1 things weren’t all that positive, with BA noting then that cash flow fell nearly 10% from a year earlier due to lower 737 aircraft deliveries. Revenue came in slightly below expectations in Q1 and fell $500 million from the same quarter in 2018.

This time around, struggles could get worse, if analysts are correct. Beyond that, BA—like other industrial companies—faces the challenge of higher materials costs due in part to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum from China. These are important components of aircraft building.

If you’re looking for any good news from BA, perhaps it’s worth noting that the company did deliver a record 18 of its 787 Dreamliner jets in June, with monthly production of that jet now at 14.

Boeing Earnings and Options Activity

When BA releases results, it is expected to report adjusted EPS of $1.78, down from $3.33 the prior-year quarter, on revenue of $19.99 billion, according to third-party consensus analyst estimates. That revenue would represent a 17.6% drop from a year ago. These earnings projections don’t reflect the charges announced by BA last week.

The options market is implying about a 3.1% stock move in either direction around the upcoming earnings release. Implied volatility was at the 22nd percentile as of Monday morning.

Looking at the July 26 weekly expiration, put volume has been light overall, but heaviest at the 365 and 370 strikes. Call volume has seen a little more action, most heavily at the 375 and 380 strikes.

Note: Call options represent the right, but not the obligation, to buy the underlying security at a predetermined price over a set period of time. Put options represent the right, but not the obligation to sell the underlying security at a predetermined price over a set period of time.

No Turkish Delight for Lockheed

Like BA, Lockheed Martin (LMT) faces a possible headwind from tariffs on materials it uses to build products. It also has its own issues with a plane, though arguably they’re nowhere near the level of BA’s concerns.

LMT’s F-35 fighter jet, which makes up about 30% of the company’s sales, recently came into the spotlight when the U.S. government halted delivery of two F-35 planes to Turkey. This was in response to Turkey making a multi-billion dollar deal to buy a Russian missile system. The issue becomes more serious for LMT because Turkey also faces the forfeiture of 100 promised F-35 jets, CNBC reported.

Complexities build for LMT when you consider that the F-35 is financed and manufactured partly by Turkey. That means LMT could need to replace the manufacturing done in that country.

For now, LMT sounds hopeful about its fighter jet despite the Turkey controversy.  “We continue to see strong demand both from our existing partners and potential new international customers and are confident the F-35 program will continue to grow,” a company official told the WSJ.

However, the company’s earnings call tomorrow could include questions from analysts about any deeper financial impact LMT might face.

A couple other factors to consider going into the call include whether the recent strong dollar is having an impact on foreign demand for LMT products, and whether business is seeing any impact from the U.S./China tariff situation.

There’s a sense that LMT and other defense companies could be getting helped by rising defense budgets, including in the U.S. However, the U.S. defense budget for next year remains contested in a battle between Democrats who control the House of Representatives and President Trump and congressional Republicans. Democrats in the House passed a $733 billion defense budget bill earlier this month that Trump and Republicans oppose. Trump had proposed $17 billion more in spending.

The House and Senate have a few weeks left to reconcile their competing versions of a defense bill. Any delay on a new budget agreement might raise questions about demand for LMT’s products in the coming months.

Lockheed Earnings and Options Activity

Lockheed crushed estimates in Q1, with earnings up 49% from a year earlier. At the time, LMT updated its forecast for 2019 financial results, with earnings anticipated between $20.05 a share and $20.35 a share. Expected full year revenue was also increased, to a range between $56.8 billion and $58.3 billion.

One thing to watch when LMT reports tomorrow is whether any of that guidance changes.

Lockheed Martin is expected to report adjusted EPS of $4.77, up from $4.05 in the prior-year quarter, according to third-party consensus analyst estimates. Revenue is projected at $14.2 billion, up 6% from a year ago.

The options market is implying about a 2.5% stock move in either direction around the coming earnings release. Implied volatility was at the 18th percentile as of Monday morning.

thinkorswim chart

TREADING WATER: Boeing shares (candlestick) have basically been treading water for a few months now, as this year-to-date chart shows, while Lockheed shares (purple line) have retreated from recent highs. Data Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Chart source: The thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.


TD Ameritrade® commentary for educational purposes only. Member SIPC. Options involve risks and are not suitable for all investors. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options.

I am Chief Market Strategist for TD Ameritrade and began my career as a Chicago Board Options Exchange market maker, trading primarily in the S&P 100

Source: Plane Talk: 737 MAX In Focus For Boeing Q2, With F-35 Top Of Mind At Lockheed

The World’s Largest Airplane Takes Flight. Next Stop? Outer Space

First flight of the Stratolaunch, which is intended to serve as a platform to send rockets into space. Stratolaunch Systems

On Saturday, the world’s largest aircraft, the Stratolaunch, made its first complete test flight. The aircraft flew for about two and a half hours over the Mojave desert, reaching a speed of 189 miles per hour and an altitude of 17,000 feet.

The aircraft was created by the Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, which was founded by the late Paul Allen. The purpose of the plane isn’t normal commercial travel, but rather to carry rockets into high altitudes, then launch those rockets from the plane itself.

“What a fantastic first flight,” Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch, said in a statement. “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems.”

Scaled Composites, which was acquired by Northrop Grummon in 2007, worked on the design and build of the Stratolaunch aircraft. Saturday’s test flight was piloted by Scaled Composites test pilots Evan Thomas and Chris Guarente.

“I honestly could not have hoped for more on a first flight especially of an airplane of this complexity and this uniqueness,” Thomas said in a press briefing following the flight.

The Stratolaunch aircraft was first announced in 2011, and is the largest plane ever built out of composite materials. Its wingspan is 385 feet, the longest of any aircraft that has ever flown, including the Spruce Goose, which had a wingspan of about 320 feet. By comparison, a Boeing 747 has a wingspan of about 212 feet – making the Stratolaunch plane nearly twice the size. It’s propelled by six PW4056 turbofan engines, and is actually capable of launching multiple rockets on a single flight, up to about 500,000 pounds.

Airplane-launched rockets seemed at one point to be a good bet as a way of providing more convenient flights into space. Scaled Composites won the Ansari X Prize for launching the first private, reusable spacecraft into space in June of 2004. That effort was backed by Paul Allen, and this approach was not only adopted by Stratolaunch but also by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

However, it’s taken much longer than expected to develop these types of spaceflight. Virgin Galactic only first reached a space-approaching altitude at the end of 2018 – 14 years after that first Scaled Composite flight – though it hopes to be providing passenger service as early as later this year. Stratolaunch at one time was developing a rocket for its aircraft, but abandoned that effort earlier this year.

Rather than launch its own rockets, Stratolaunch has shifted strategy to be a platform for other aircraft-launched rockets. In particular, for Northrop Grummon’s Pegasus family of rockets. First demonstration Pegasus flights off of the Stratolaunch plane are scheduled for 2020.

Though they’ve taken longer to develop, the arrival of private plane-launched rockets via Virgin and Stratolaunch may be well-timed, as more satellite startups are looking for options to get satellites into space on their own timetable. Rockets launched from airplanes have more flexibility in terms of timing than their counterparts that launch from the ground, which may be a critical factor for companies looking to build up constellations in a hurry.

This post has been updated with more reporting since its initial publication.

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Read my Forbes blog here.

I’m an Associate Editor covering science and cutting edge tech.


Source: The World’s Largest Airplane Takes Flight. Next Stop? Outer Space

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