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Facebook is willing to reverse course on its plans to tie its digital currency project to a synthetic currency tied to a basket of global currencies.

Reuters is reporting that Facebook’s head of the Libra project, David Marcus, told a group of bankers that the company’s main goal was to create a better payments system and was open to alternative approaches to the original structure of the project.

Facebook and its partners had intended to create its cryptocurrency by pegging it to a basket of national currencies whose holdings would be set by the Libra Association.

National banks considered the plan part of a dangerous end-run around their regulatory authority and have been holding up the project until they could assume tighter control over how the Facebook-architected cryptocurrency and payment technology would operate.

The scrutiny from regulators proved too much for some of Facebook’s largest, and earliest, partners in the Libra Association, whose members would determine how the cryptocurrency would operate.

In the past month seven of the Libra Association’s founding members dropped out including: PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Ebay, and Stripe. Those seven represented a big chunk of the strategic value and commercial heft of the planned association, with Stripe, Mastercard, Visa, and Ebay standing in for a huge number of payment processors and merchant touchpoints that the new cryptocurrency would need were it to dramatically scale to the size Facebook wanted right out of the gate.

Now, in another strategic reversal, Marcus is conceding the synthetic currency in favor of stablecoins tied to the local currency in each market that Libra would operate.

 

“We could do it differently,” Reuters quoted the Libra Association chief as saying. “Instead of having a synthetic unit … we could have a series of stablecoins, a dollar stablecoin, a euro stablecoin, a sterling pound stable coin, etc.”

All of this is happening against the backdrop of Facebook’s stated launch date of June 2020 for the Libra cryptocurrency. Marcus told Reuters that the June launch was still the goal, but that the association would not move forward unless it had addressed the concerns of regulators and received the proper approvals.

Those approvals are becoming harder to come by as the regulators who overseen global monetary policy cast a more skeptical eye at on stablecoins as well.

Reuters reported that the G-20 financial overseers wrote in a statement that money laundering, illicit finance and consumer protection need to be evaluated before any stablecoin projects can “commence operation.”

 


TechCrunch

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California on Thursday, delivering an address alongside NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will launch aboard SpaceX’s commercial Crew Dragon capsule, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Bridenstine kicked off  with some brief remarks about the importance and priority of the crew launch mission, which he said both he and Musk are in agreement that the commercial launch of American astronauts is “the highest priority” of the various projects both his agency and SpaceX have under development.

He and Musk then went into some detail about where the program is now, and what remains to be done to get to an actual crewed flight – the first of which will be a test flight. Bridenstine’s comments essentially took 2019 off the table for this to happen, with the Administrator saying he was “very confident that in the first part of next year, we will be able to launch American astronauts on American rockets,” and that if “everything goes according to plan,” it would take place in the first quarter of 2020.

Musk noted that in order for SpaceX to have confidence in its Crew Dragon launch system’s reliability for a crewed mission, they would have to have run 10 successful drop tests using the newly developed Mark 3 parachute system for the capsule occur “in a row.” Bridenstine said that based on the current schedule, SpaceX could run as many as 10 drop tests total using the Mark 3 system between now and the end of this year.

This new Mark 3 system features much stronger lines connecting the sheets of material used in their construction, Musk said, thanks to switching to a material called ‘xylon’ away from nylon, which is three or more times stronger per the CEO. The new version also uses a new stitching pattern compared to Mark 2 for additional strength.

Both Musk and Bridenstine were keen to point out that the timelines discussed, including the 2019 target for the crewed flight that SpaceX has been working towards until now, are “not deadlines,” but are instead a “best guess” in Musk’s words, based on the current state of affairs. Said state of affairs can change quickly, and Bridenstine added that “there are still things we could learn [in testing]” that could alter the timelines later than the first part of next year.

As for Crew Dragon product, Musk said that SpaceX is ramping to a cadence of producing a new capsule around once every three or four months, a rate it hopes to achieve in order to “get in a cadence of operational flights to the space station.”

Bridenstine also addressed the tweet he posted in late September regarding SpaceX’s Starship program update (posted in full below).

“As the NASA Administrator, I have been focused on returning to realism when it comes to costs and schedules,” he said. “And a lot of our programs that not been meeting costs and schedules. And this has been developing over time. And a lot of these programs are, you know, five years old, 10 years old […] so what we’re trying to do is get back to a day where we have realistic costs and schedules, and so I was signaling, and I haven’t done it just the SpaceX, but to all of our contractors that we need more realism built into the development timelines.”

Still, Bridentstine clarified that NASA definitely supports the Starship program as well, even if it’s prioritizing Crew Dragon at the current moment. “I want people to make no mistake: NASA has an interest in seeing starship be successful,” he said, while also pointing out NASA’s recent investment in Starship via its ‘Tipping Point’ project funding.


TechCrunch

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered an update about Starship, the company’s nest generation spacecraft, which is being designed for full, “rapid reusability.” Musk discussed the technology behind the design of Starship, which has evolved somewhat through testing and development after its original introduction in 2017.

Among the updates detailed, Musk articulated how Starship will be used to make humans interplanetary, including its use of in-space refilling of propellant, by docking with tanker Starships already in orbit to transfer fuel. This is necessary for the spacecraft to get enough propellant on board post-launch to make the trip to the Moon or Mars from Earth – especially since it’ll be carrying as much as 100 tons of cargo on board to deliver to these other space-based bodies.

Elon Musk

These will include supplies for building bases on planetary surfaces, as well as up to 100 passengers on long-haul planet-to-planet flights.

Those are still very long-term goals, however, and Musk also went into detail about development of the current generation of Starship prototypes, as well as the planned future Starships that will go to orbit, and carry their first passengers.

The Starship Mk1, Mk2 and the forthcoming Mk3 and Mk4 orbital testers will all feature a fin design that will orient the vehicles so they can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere flat on their ‘bellies,’ coming in horizontal to increase drag and reduce velocity before performing a sort of flip maneuver to swing past vertical and then pendulum back to vertical for touch-down. In simulation, as shown at the event, it looks like it’ll be incredible to watch, since it looks more unwieldy than the current landing process for Falcon boosters, even if it’s still just as controlled.

SpaceX Starship Mk1 29

The front fins on the Starship prototype will help orient it for re-entry, a key component of reuse.

Musk also shared a look at the design planned for Super Heavy, the booster that will be used to propel Starship to orbit. This liquid-oxygen powered rocket, which is about 1.5 times the height of the Starship itself, will have 37 Raptor engines on board (the Starship will have only six) and will also feature six landing legs and deployable grid fins for its own return trip back to Earth.

In terms of testing and development timelines, Musk said that the Starship Mk1 he presented the plan in front of at Boca Chica should have its first test flight in just one to two months. That will be a flight to a sub-orbital altitude of just under 70,000 feet. The prototype spacecraft is already equipped with the three Raptor engines it will use for that flight.

Next, Starship Mk2, which is currently being built in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at another SpaceX facility, will attempt a similar high altitude test. Musk explained that both these families will continue to compete with each other internally and build Starship prototypes and rockets simultaneously. Mk3 will begin construction at Boca Chica beginning next month, and Mk4 will follow in Florida soon after. Musk said that the next Starship test flight after the sub-orbital trip for Mk1 might be an orbital launch with the full Super Heavy booster and Mk3.

Elon Musk 1

Musk said that SpaceX will be “building both ships and boosters here [at Boca Chica] and a the Cape as fast as we can,” and that they’ve already been improving both the design and the manufacture of the sections for the spacecraft “exponentially” as a result of the competition.

The Mk1 features welded panels to make up the rings you can see in the detail photograph of the prototype below, for instance, but Mk3 and Mk4 will use full sheets of stainless steel that cover the whole diameter of the spacecraft, welded with a single weld. There was one such ring on site at the event, which indicates SpaceX is already well on its way to making this work.

This rapid prototyping will enable SpaceX to build and fly Mk2 in two months, Mk3 in three months, Mk4 in four months and so on. Musk added that either Mk3 or Mk5 will be that orbital test, and that they want to be able to get that done in less than six months. He added that eventually, crewed missions aboard Starship will take place from both Boca Chica and the Cape, and that the facilities will be focused only on producing Starships until Mk4 is complete, at which point they’ll begin developing the Super Heavy booster.

Starship Mk1 night

In total, Musk said that SpaceX will need 100 of its Raptor rocket engines between now and its first orbital flight. At its current pace, he said, SpaceX is producing one every eight days – but they should increase that output to one every two days within a few months, and are targeting production of one per day for early in Q1 2019.

Because of their aggressive construction and testing cycle, and because, Musk said, the intent is to achieve rapid reusability to the point where you could “fly the booster 20 times a day” and “fly the [starship] three or four times a day,” the company should theoretically be able to prove viability very quickly. Musk said he’s optimistic that they could be flying people on test flights of Starship as early as next year as a result.

Part of its rapid reusability comes from the heat shield design that SpaceX has devised for Starship, which includes a stainless steel finish on one half of the spacecraft, with ceramic tiles used on the bottom where the heat is most intense during re-entry. Musk said that both of these are highly resistant to the stresses of reentry and conducive to frequent reuse, without incurring tremendous cost – unlike their initial concept, which used carbon fibre in place of stainless steel.

Musk is known for suggesting timelines that don’t quite match up with reality, but Starship’s early tests haven’t been so far behind his predictions thus far.


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