Rocket Lab Launches Secret Payload From New Zealand
After waiting out high winds, Rocket Lab's low-cost Electron rocket launched a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from New Zealand, halfway around the world from the U.S. spy satellite agency's headquarters.
Liftoff for the "Birds of a Feather" mission took place at 6:56 p.m. PT today (3:56 p.m. local time Friday), nearly three hours after the day's launch window opened. Rocket Lab's team faced excessively high ground winds, but the breeze subsided in time for the company's first liftoff of 2020 and its 11th mission to date. After stage separation, the rocket's kick stage continued on its way to deploy the NROL-151 payload about an hour after launch.
The nature of the payload isn't known — but back in 2018, the NRO's director at the time, Betty Sapp, said the agency wanted "to explore what the tiny rocket marketplace can provide for us." Although the launch took place on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, the California-based Rocket Lab is cleared for U.S. governmental and military launches. It has previously sent payloads to orbit for NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as for civilian satellite operators.
Eventually, Rocket Lab aims to try recovering its first-stage boosters for reuse, but this time around, it intended only to collect the data recorded by the booster during its guided re-entry and splashdown into the Pacific Ocean. The privately held company is definitely on its way up: It's expanding to a second launch pad on Virginia's Wallops Island, and is building yet another pad in New Zealand.
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With investments in some of tech's best-known companies, China-based Tencent is one of the world's wealthiest funders. It's also, along with TikTok, a target of the Trump administration.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order that will bar U.S. transactions related to WeChat, one of many companies owned by Tencent, raising concerns about what other businesses might soon be impacted.
L.A.-based Riot Games is just one of many companies Tencent owns. It also holds shares in Activision Blizzard, Snap and Spotify, among others.
A White House official told the L.A. Times that Trump's executive order "only blocks transactions related to WeChat," but that hasn't stemmed concerns that Trump's actions could ripple through California, as companies and investors take another look at their relationships with China.
The executive order's language is vague – it does not, for example, specify what kind of transactions are banned. What it makes clear, however, is the Trump administration's concerns about Chinese tech companies.
"When people have to start defining where does WeChat end and Spotify begin, that's when people start to get more nervous," said Cynthia Cole, special counsel at Palo Alto-based Baker Botts, which specializes in data privacy and technology. With the executive orders, Trump's threats and their potential consequences have become "more real," she said.
Cole said CEOs are likely to be concerned with two things. For one, they may need to turn off the spigot of investment capital that has come from China.
"The reason these companies sold shares to Tencent is because they need capital to grow," Cole said. Now, however, they and others may need to look elsewhere.
The second concern is about perception. Being associated with a company whose integrity is under attack may turn customers and shareholders away, Cole said.
L.A.-based attorney Aaron Swerdlow added that "a lot of companies are taking a wait-and-see approach." Many companies are in a "holding pattern" as they seek to gauge the extent to which Trump's actions are political posturing before the November election, rather than harbingers of longer-term policy shifts.
Swerdlow, who does transactional work with tech companies at Weinberg Gonser LLP, added that investors are beginning to factor geopolitical uncertainty into their analyses of where to place their bets. Given that the U.S. government's China concerns relate to national security, Swerdlow says investment into tech and internet companies may slow, as clarity about what constitutes a national security risk remains unclear.
What's to come? Cole offered two predictions.
The first is that companies, especially those with ties to Tencent or ByteDance, will start to publicize that they respect data privacy and user security.
"I think we may see companies become more open about how they're using data," Cole said, "to try to differentiate themselves from bad actors." She added this could come in the form of more disclosure, including not only what data companies collect but also how they use it, and via marketing campaigns.
Cole's second prediction is a "chilling effect" among companies spooked by the prospects of what else Trump might do to his perceived corporate enemies, regardless of whether they have a tie to China.
That could mean companies become less inclined to take a defiant stance against the Trump administration, particularly as the election nears and politics become an ever bigger piece of the equation.
"Companies may be more concerned about the perception and wider ramifications of their actions," she said.
Swerdlow sees the potential for a chilling effect beyond the Chinese mainland. Pointing to Hong Kong, another arena where the U.S.-China tension is unfolding, he said some Chinese-backed companies may find money slower to arrive.
"Hong Kong is really an entrepot for money coming in and out of China to the world," he said. Now, however, with the Chinese government tightening its grip on the former British colony, its role as financial intermediary between East and West may shrink.
"Especially given the proximity between California and China, if money is frozen or coming more slowly out of China via Hong Kong to L.A.-based companies," even those that aren't directly implicated in Trump's executive orders may suffer.
The U.S. election may help to resolve some of the uncertainties businesses are facing amid the U.S.-China tensions. But Swerdlow said the Hong Kong question will likely remain unanswered well after November.
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LA Tech Updates: TikTok pays Creators as Rivals Dig In, Amazon Reportedly Eyes Sears, J.C. Penny Stores
- TikTok Pays Creators as Rivals Dig In
- Amazon Wants to Use Sears and J.C. Penny Stores as Fulfillment Centers: WSJ
TikTok Doles Out Money to Creators, Batting Away Rivals
Tiktok announced today the first receipts of a $200 million creator fund including several Los Angeles-based app stars. It comes as the social app faces increased competition from those trying to lure away talent and the threat of an outright ban.
The company has promised to up their funds for rising U.S. creators to $1 billion over the coming three years.
Among the 19 selected so far is Los Angeles-based Alex Stemplewski, a photographer who shares the impromptu photo shoots he has with strangers in public with his 9.6M followers.
There's also Justice Alexander, one of the top Latino creators on the app, who captures quick video of the many pranks he plays on his girlfriend and daughter with his 5.4M followers.
Well-known TikTok-er David Dobrik recently gave away a Tesla to one of his more than 20M followers as part of a sweepstakes for the most heartfelt story.
The Creator Fund will open their applications in the middle of the month for anyone 18 years or older looking to expand their work on Tiktok. To be considered, creators must have 10,000 followers or at least 10,000 video views in the last 30 days and follow community guidelines.President Trump recently signed an executive order that will ban the Chinese-owned company by September 20th unless it's sold to an American company before that date. TikTok has responded by threatening legal action.
Amazon Wants to Use Sears and J.C. Penny Stores as Fulfillment Centers: WSJlive.staticflickr.com
Amazon is in talks with mall operator giant Simon Property Group to convert Sears and J.C. Penney department stores into package distribution centers, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
The discussions come as Amazon continues to grow its e-commerce empire which has helped contribute to the downfall of brick-and-mortar retailers including Sears and J.C. Penney, which both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That trend accelerated with the pandemic as malls closed and millions of consumers rely on Amazon for online shopping.
Shares of Simon Property Group, which has 21 malls in California including the Del Amo Fashion Center, Brea Mall and Ontario Mills, jumped on the news. The company is set to report earnings after Monday's market close.
Adding more warehouses would help Amazon speed up deliveries as the company plans to offer its Prime members 1-day delivery of their orders. Amazon posted $5.2 billion in profits in the second quarter, doubling its bottom line from the same quarter a year ago, despite spending more than $4 billion on COVID-19 initiatives.
The city of Adelanto sits 85 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles and may be best known for its prison — now a privately-owned immigration detention center. It's also where cannabis startup Genius Fund was pouring tens of millions of its investor's dollars last year.
Genius Fund's state-of-the-art cannabis production facility sits at the intersection of Muskrat Avenue and Rancho Road on a dusty stretch of the Mojave Desert, guarded with 8-foot-high fencing and razor wire.
Editor's Note<p>The story is pieced together from interviews with more than 40 former employees and business associates, active and retired county officials, as well as federal and county law enforcement; state court records, arbitration, arrest and corporate records in the U.S. and Canada; other public records in six California counties; Genius Fund corporate records and emails. Some former employees and business associates spoke to dot.LA on condition that their names not be mentioned out of fear of reprisals.</p><p>This is fourth story in our "Green Rush" series. Read more:</p><p><a href="https://dot.la/genius-fund-collapse-2646865907.html" target="_self">Part 1: Rise and Collapse of LA's Genius Fund</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/genius-fund-cannabis-startup-2646866270" target="_self">Part 2: Growing Pains in Plumas County</a> | <a href="https://dot.la/cannabis-products-genius-fund-2646866366.html" target="_blank">Part 3: A Line of Failed Products</a></p>
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