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Astra heads to the Space Coast – TechCrunch

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Hello and welcome back to Max Q! Happy December everyone. We’re officially nearing the end of the year, and what a year it’s been. Despite the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this has been a watershed 365 days for the space industry. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store. OK, now onto the news!

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Astra is heading to Cape Canaveral

Fresh on the heels of its first successful launch to orbit, space startup Astra is heading to the Space Coast. The company said it would carry CubeSats for NASA for its first mission to take place outside of Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launch, which is scheduled for January, will fly as part of a Venture Class Launch Services program contract Astra won last year.

It’s a big win for the company. Multiple launch locations means Astra can finally demonstrate one of its key value propositions: that its on-site launch operations are agile, lightweight and can be effectively deployed from a number of sites. The Florida location will also give the company access to more orbits — which means being able to serve even more customers.

Image Credits: John Kraus / Astra

Ursa Major wants to disrupt the vertically integrated rocket launch sector

Ursa Major is scaling up its ambitions to disrupt the vertically integrated launch sector with a fresh round of funding. The company raised an $85 million Series C led by funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, as well as participation from XN, Alsop Louie, Alpha Edison, Dolby Family Ventures, KCK, Space Capital, Explorer 1, Harpoon Ventures and others.

The startup has already put its first product into production, a 5,000-pound thrust liquid oxygen and kerosene engine called Hadley, and it’s at work on the Ripley, the next-gen engine that’s 10 times more powerful than Hadley, with a 50,000-pound thrust.

CEO Joe Laurienti likened Ursa Major to a company like Intel, which is constantly innovating more powerful processors and outsourcing that expertise to brands like Dell and Lenovo. “We really like the notion that we are a technology development company, and the companies that are flying rockets today should not be flying the same engine that they architected for their rocket 10 years ago. That’s the paradigm we see in vertical integration.”

Other news from TC and beyond

Astranis signed a $90 million agreement with Latin American telecom company Grupo Andesat to deliver broadband internet access to rural Peru. The first launch will take place in 2023.

The Federal Aviation Administration will end its Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program at the beginning of 2022, citing the advent of commercial space tourism. Now, individuals who travel 50 miles above Earth will be recognized on the administration’s website.

Loft Orbital raised $140 million in a new round of funding led by investment company BlackRock. The space infrastructure startup has already launched two spacecraft, and aims to use the funds to scale its business, CNBC reports.

NanoAvionics was awarded a mission contract from Los Alamos National Labs to build a small spacecraft about the size of a microwave. It will host instruments to measure diffuse gamma-ray background, a type of radiation.

Planet Labs is officially a public company. It began trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker sybol $PL on Tuesday, after closing a merger with blank-check firm dMY Technology Group Inc. IV. Planet received around $590 million in proceeds and PIPE from the transaction.

Rocket Lab has now deployed 109 satellites to orbit, after successfully delivering two satellites to orbit for geospatial intelligence company BlackSky. Rocket Lab also announced a three-launch deal with Japanese Earth imaging company Synspective in 2022 and 2023.

Tomorrow.ai is the space industry’s most recent company to announce a merger with a blank-check firm, in a deal that the startup says could inject it with up to $420 million in capital. Tomorrow is aiming to operate a network of weather satellites and an intelligence platform for customers. It will merge with special purpose acquisition corporation Pine Technology Acquisition Corp.

TC Sessions: Space is NEXT WEEK

It’s finally (almost) here!!!! That’s right folks: TC Sessions: Space is set to kick off next week, December 14 and 15. It’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join — and you can, too.



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Down rounds are still rare by historical standards • TechCrunch

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If you thought that the recent venture capital market was tough, let me tell you about 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

With the first week of December under our belts, we’re not too far away from the end of the year. And that means that 2022’s venture capital story has largely been written. It’s not a single narrative; instead, this year started on a high, with momentum from the monstrous 2021 funding period persisting into the new year. From that point, we’ve seen a slowdown accelerate into what some consider a downturn.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Startups raised lots of capital this year. Less, yes, than last year, but more than in nearly any year in recent memory. It’s still a good time to build a tech upstart.

Does that perspective feel too sunny when we hear so much doom and gloom on Twitter regarding startup prospects in a more conservative investing climate?

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Howie Mandel gets a digital twin from DeepBrain AI

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Howie Mandel is stepping into the metaverse. DeepBrain AI has created a pretty realistic AI version of comedian and actor Mandel.

Deepbrain AI, based in South Korea and Palo Alto, California, calls its creation “AI Howie,” and it’s an interactive virtual human and digital twin for immersive and personalized fan experiences. AI Howie mentions VentureBeat and talks to me in the attached videos.

Unlike the “deepfakes” of Tom Cruise and other actors, the real Howie Mandel cooperated with DeepBrain AI to create the virtual human AI replica of the famous comedian, actor, host, and technology enthusiast. We used “virtual Paris” AI character at our recent MetaBeat event in San Francisco.

“I am equally thrilled, excited, and terrified to finally have the ability of showing up and doing things without going anywhere or doing anything,” said Mandel, in a statement. “Thank you, DeepBrain.”

DeepBrain AI applies deep learning technology to create hyper-realistic virtual humans through its AI Studios and the AI Human platforms. These virtual humans are digital twins of the real person, with the same appearance, voice, gestures, and subtle mannerisms. The AI Studios platform enables script-to-video software that synthesizes dynamic video content in seconds, producing the quickest and most
realistic AI-generated videos. The script-to-video editor makes it easy for customers to select a model and then make it say something based on a script. Within a minute or so the video is made.

This is a powerful communication and marketing tool for celebrities, professional athletes, news anchors, and even politicians. Before working with Howie Mandel, the DeepBrain AI team created digital twins of Premier League soccer superstar Son Heung-Min, multiple news anchors across Asia, and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol.

Joe Murphy, business development manager for DeepBrain AI, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the virtual Howie is a conversational model that you pepper with questions. DeepBrain AI designs and develops these virtual humans for the purpose of creating digital twins (like Howie Mandel), digital people, and avatars.

It takes about four weeks of machine learning work to create a Howie Mandel digital twin.

“We create models of real people,” Murphy said. “We also have completely synthetic virtual humans. That is what we’ll call digital people. And then avatars are just the basic Roblox type of avatars. But where our technology comes in with the digital twins is we go through a deep learning process to clone the person’s voice, their mannerisms, their face, the way their eyes move, the way their lips move.”

He added, “So we create what we call the digital twin of the real person with all the uniqueness of that person. Our mission is to use this technology that we’ve developed throughout Asia and bring it to America.”

In addition to the script-to-video capabilities, the company provides fully conversational experiences with its AI Human software. The AI Human solution enables fans to interact and engage with AI Howie by simply asking questions. For example, when asked, “What was your favorite act on AGT this season?” the AI Howie model responds in real-time to support interactive, fun, and engaging fan experiences.

AI Humans are available within mobile apps, web browsers, or voice-activated kiosks.

“Our vision is to humanize digital experiences and empower creative teams to generate immersive content at scale,” said Eric Jang, DeepBrain AI CEO. “Working with Howie Mandel was a fun experience, and we are excited to see how the AI Howie collaboration will connect with his fans worldwide.”

DeepBrain AI, (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The company started in 2016 and it has raised $54 million to date. The company has 130 employees.

The AI is being used for AI news anchors in South Korea and China at four different television networks. The networks flag that the anchor is an AI avatar so that no one gets confused.

The real Howie Mandel spent about a day shooting video with DeepBrain AI.

While multiple companies are working on virtual humans, DeepBrain AI’s avatars are hyperrealistic. One of Asia’s largest insurance companies is also using it, as is a “brand ambassador” for a soccer team.

“When we worked with Howie Mandel, we went down to his studio in Los Angeles, we provided a script, and fed our training data into our neural network,” Murphy said.

It took about a day to do a video shoot with Mandel and about three to four weeks of machine learning time on the computers to generate the first AI model.

Back in January, DeepBrain AI opened its office in Palo Alto, California, and it is talking to partners in Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. Over time, Murphy said that the hope is to create AI avatars in realistic 3D for the metaverse. In South Korea, kiosks are appearing in places like banks with both 2D avatars and 3D avatars.

Over time, Murphy said the avatars have gotten better at mannerisms, lip sync, and subtle gestures. The speed of real-time responses in conversations has also gotten faster. The company is talking about doing more with game companies and major brands.

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This Doggy DNA Test Ships Free for the Holidays

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every pet owner wants the best for their animal sidekick. They want to spend as much time as possible with them, even at the office. But being the best dog owner you can be isn’t all about just being present. It helps to understand your dog on a genotypic as well as phenotypic level. That’s one reason why doggy DNA tests have become so popular.



DNA My Dog

If you’re wondering what to get for your pooch this holiday season, look no further than the DNA My Dog Breed Identification Test. If you order by December 8, you’ll get free shipping, but that date is coming up fast so don’t delay.

This simple, painless kit requires just a swab of your dog’s cheek to get a detailed report delivered in two weeks or less. That report includes a custom photo certificate of the breed breakdown found in your dog’s genetic breed composition, a percentage breakdown of the levels found in your dog’s DNA, and a report on the dominant breeds, personality traits, and health concerns that your dog may be genetically predisposed to. All of that information will help you be a better friend to your dog, making smarter decisions about food, training, and healthcare.

The DNA My Dog Kit was awarded at the 2020 GHO Biotechnology Awards and user Bonnie H. writes, “I loved this experience!!! The kit came immediately with great instructions. The results came exactly when promised. When I couldn’t open the attachment with the results, I emailed my concern and got instant help! To find out his DNA has been the coolest experience!”

Lock in free shipping on a unique gift for your dog by December 8. Grab the DNA My Dog Breed Identification Test on sale for 24% off $79 at just $59.99 now.

Prices subject to change.

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