We’re thrilled to be hosting NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond, Lockheed Martin VP and head of civil space programs Lisa Callahan and many more. In addition to the firesides and panel discussions of the virtual stage, the event will also include networking, startup presentations and the chance to connect with attendees from around the world.
Below, you’ll find the official agenda for TC Sessions: Space. It’s a packed two days already, but we’ve got some extra surprises in store, so keep an eye on the agenda over the coming weeks for more great speakers and sessions we’re adding.
If you want to be a part of this event, you can grab a ticket to get exclusive access to watch these sessions live (with access to video on demand), network with the innovators changing the space industry, discover the hottest early-stage companies, learn how to score grants for your space company, recruit talent or even find a job with an early-bird ticket for just $125. And we have discounts available for groups, students, active military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup some extra visibility.
Wednesday, December 16
From robots scooping rockets from the surface of galaxy-traveling asteroids, to preparing for the return of humans to the surface of the moon, we’ll cover all aspects of scientific and civil exploration of the solar system.
Some investors spend a lot of their time looking to the stars for the next venture capital opportunity. It’s a market unlike any other, but does that change the math on equity-based investment?
How Earth observation is one of the real moneymakers in the space category and what’s ahead for the industry.
With our virtual platform, attendees can network via video chat, giving folks the chance to make meaningful connections. CrunchMatch, our algorithmic matching product, will be available to ensure you’re meeting the right people at the show, as well as random matching for attendees who are feeling more adventurous.
Lt. General Thompson is responsible for fostering an ecosystem of non-traditional space startups and the future of Space Force acquisitions, all to the end goal of protecting the global commons of space. He’ll talk about what the U.S. is looking for in startup partnerships and emerging tech, and how it works with these young companies.
The launch business is booming, but besides SpaceX and Rocket Lab, there isn’t anyone far enough along to truly capitalize in terms of new space startups. We’ll talk to the founders of companies hoping to be next in line.
NASA is going back to the moon — this time, to stay. The agency has made tremendous progress toward this goal under Administrator Bridenstine, who will join us to talk about how they’re taking private partners with them this time around, including a lot of startups.
Thursday, December 17
Public-Private Partnerships in the Domain of Space Defense with General Jay Raymond (United States Space Force)
Hear from the head of the U.S. Space Force what it takes to secure an entirely new war-fighting domain, and how the newest branch of the U.S. military will be looking to private industry to make it happen.
The TechCrunch Desk
Hang with us at the TechCrunch Desk to catch up on what you may have missed from across the show and a preview of what’s to come.
Rocket Lab has quickly become one of the most sought-after launch providers in the world. Founder and CEO Peter Beck will discuss the company’s approach to making space more accessible, from cheaper, faster launches to its new satellite platform.
Corporate VC funds are a key source of investment for space startups, in part because they often involve partnerships that help generate revenue as well, and because they understand the timelines involved. We’ll talk about how they fit in with more standard venture to power the ecosystem.
We’ll be talking about the best ways to understand what the Air Force needs and how to sell it to them.
Data connectivity and communications are key to commercial space monetization and the strategic plans for further space exploration and development. Hear from the key players about the state of play in the industry.
Once a spacecraft is in orbit, it’s on its own — but what if it could be refueled, repaired, refurbished and, if necessary, retired? OrbitFab founder Daniel Faber and Astroscale U.S. president Ron Lopez will discuss how in-space operations could upend today’s engineering and business models.
If you’re interested in a sponsored speaking opportunity to join the stage with these fantastic speakers, contact us here to speak with someone from our sales team!
Now, the company is making three big additions to WhatsApp to fill out that proposition.
It’s launching a way to shop for and pay for goods and services in WhatsApp chats; it’s going head to head with the hosting providers of the world with a new product called Facebook Hosting Services to host businesses’ online assets and activity; and — in line with its expanding product range — Facebook said it will finally start to charge companies using WhatsApp for Business.
Facebook announced the news in a short blog post light on details. We have reached out to the company for more information on pricing, availability of the services, and whether Facebook will provide hosting itself or work with third parties, and we will update this post as we learn more.
Here is what we know for now:
In-chat Shopping. Companies are already using WhatsApp to present product information and initiate discussions for transactions. One of the more recent developments in that area was the addition of QR codes and the ability to share catalog links in chats, added in July. At the same time, Facebook has been expanding the ways that businesses can display what they are selling on Facebook and Instagram, most recently with the launch in August of Facebook Shop, following a similar product roll out on Instagram before that.
Today’s move sounds like a new way for businesses in turn to use WhatsApp both to link through to those Facebook-native catalogs, as well as other products, and then purchase items, while still staying in the chat.
At the same time, Facebook will be making it possible for merchants to add “buy” buttons in other places that will take shoppers to WhatsApp chats to complete the purchase. “We also want to make it easier for businesses to integrate these features into their existing commerce and customer solutions,” it notes. “This will help many small businesses who have been most impacted in this time.”
Although Facebook is not calling this WhatsApp Pay, it seems that this is the next step ahead for the company’s ambitions to bring payments into the chat flow of its messaging app. That has been a long and winding road for the company, which finally launched WhatsApp Payments, using Facebook Pay, in Brazil, in June of this year only to have it shut down by regulators for failing to meet their requirements. (The plan has been to expand it to India, Indonesia and Mexico next.)
Facebook Hosting Services: Thse will be available in the coming months, but no specific date to share right now. “We’re sharing our plans now while we work with our partners to make these services available,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.
No! This is not about Facebook taking on AWS. Or… not yet at least? The idea here appears that it is specifically aimed at selling hosting services to the kind of SMBs who already use Facebook and WhatsApp messaging, who either already use hosting services for their online assets, whether that be their online stores or other things, or are finding themselves now needing to for the first time, now that business is all about being “online.”
“Today, all businesses using our API are using either an on-premise solution or leverage a solutions provider, both of which require costly servers to maintain,” Facebook said. “With this change, businesses will be able to choose to use Facebook’s own secure hosting infrastructure for free, which helps remove a costly item for every company that wants to use the WhatsApp Business API, including our business service providers, and will help them all save money.” It added that it will share more info about where data will be hosted closer to launch.
This is a very interesting move, since the SMB hosting market is pretty fragmented with a number of companies, including the likes of GoDaddy, Dream Host, HostGator, BlueHost and many others also offering these services. That fragmentation spells opportunity for a huge company like Facebook with a global profile, a burgeoning amount of connections through to other online services for these SMBs, and a pretty extensive network of data centers around the world that it’s built for itself and can now use to provide services to others — which is, indeed, a pretty strong parallel with how Amazon and AWS have done business.
Facebook already has an “app store” of sorts of partners it works with to provide marketing and related services to businesses using its platform. It looks like it plans to expand this, and will sell the hosting alongside all of that, with the kicker that hosting natively on Facebook will speed up how everything works.
“Providing this option will make it easier for small and medium size businesses to get started, sell products, keep their inventory up to date, and quickly respond to messages they receive – wherever their employees are,” it notes.
Charging tiers: As you would expect, to encourage more adoption, Facebook has not been charging for WhatsApp Business up to now, but it has charged for some WhatsApp business messages — for example when businesses send a boarding pass or e-commerce receipt to a customer over Facebook’s rails. (These prices vary and a list of them is published here.) Now, with more services coming into the mix, and businesses tying their fates more strongly to how well they are performing on Facebook’s platforms, it’s not surprise to see Facebook converting that into a pay to play scenario.
“What we’ve heard over the past couple years is how the conversational nature of business messaging is really valuable to people. So in the future we may look at ways to update how we charge businesses that better reflect how it’s used,” the company told us. Important to note that this will relate to how businesses send messages. “As always, it’s free for people to send a business a message,” Facebook added.
Frustratingly, there seems so far to be no detail on which services will be charged, nor how much, nor when, so this is more of a warning than a new requirement.
“We will charge business customers for some of the services we offer, which will help WhatsApp continue building a business of our own while we provide and expand free end-to-end encrypted text, video and voice calling for more than two billion people,” it notes.
For those who might find that annoying, on the plus side, for those who are concerned about an ever-encroaching data monster, it will, at the least, help WhatsApp and Facebook continue to stick to its age-old commitment to stay away from advertising as a business model.
Doubling-down on SMBs
The new services come at a time when Facebook is doubling down on providing services for businesses, spurred in no small part by the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven physical retailers and others to close their actual doors, shifting their focus to using the internet and mobile services to connect with and sell to customers.
Citing that very trend, last month the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the Facebook Business Suite, bringing together all of the tools it has been building for companies to better leverage Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp profiles both to advertise themselves as well as communicate with and sell to customers. And the fact that Sandberg was leading the announcement says something about how Facebook is prioritizing this: it’s striking while the iron is hot with companies using its platform, but it sees/hopes that business services can a key way to diversify its business model while also helping buffer it — since many businesses building Pages may also advertise.
Facebook has also been building more functionality across Facebook and Instagram specifically aimed at helping power users and businesses leverage the two in a more efficient way. Adding in more tools to WhatsApp is the natural progression of all of this.
To be sure, as we pointed out earlier this year, even while there is a lot of very informal use of WhatsApp by businesses all around the world, WhatsApp Business remains a fairly small product, most popular in India and Brazil. Facebook launching more tools for how to use it will potentially drive more business not just in those markets but help the company convert more businesses to using it in other places, too.
Smaller businesses have been on Facebook’s radar for a while now. Even before the pandemic hit, in many cases retailers or restaurants do not have websites of their own, opting for a Facebook Page or Instagram Profile as their URL and primary online interface with the world; and even when they do have standalone sites, they are more likely to update people and spread the word about what they are doing on social media than via their own URLs.
Facebook’s also made a video to help demonstrate how it sees these WhatsApp Business in action, which you can here:
Several key stats stick above the rest. Three motors within two Ultium drive units power the vehicle and it appears to have the longest battery of any GM vehicle with an electric powertrain. GM says the Hummer EV can hit 60 mph in around three seconds. It also has all-wheel steering, which allows it drive diagonally in a mode called Crabwalk. There are removable roof panels, 35-inch tires, and an air suspension system that can raise the vehicle 6-inches.
Some details are still missing including the capacity of the battery, and towing capacity. For truck buyers, numbers around power and torque are secondary to what they mean in the real world. How much can the vehicle tow? How far can it go? How far can it go when pulling a trailer?
GM has plenty of time to answer those questions and more. The Hummer EV is not coming soon. GMC said the vehicle will be available for pre-ordering in 2021 and vehicles will be available for delivery in 2022.
The electric Hummer starts at $80,000. That gets buyers the Hummer EV2, a two-drive version that lacks key advertised features. For $100,000 buyers can get the Hummer EV3x which includes three motors and torque vectoring steering. For $90,000, and a release date of Spring 2023, buyers can get the EV2x which includes air ride and 4 wheel steer
The Hummer EV
The Hummer brand long stood for exessively large vehicles and this new incarnation is no different. It’s massive. While GM hasn’t revealed the full dimensions, it comes stock with 35-inch tires and is capable of 37-inch tires. That’s big.
GM built impressive technology into the Hummer EV. The Hummer EV comes with GM’s self-driving technology, Super Cruise, that allows the truck to drive partly autonomously. The battery pack is capable of connecting to an 800 volt charging system that will give the vehicle 100 miles in 10 minutes of charging. Buyers can order the Hummer EV with up to 18 cameras, including cameras that sit under the vehicle to help with ground clearance.
It seems GMC is positioning the Hummer EV as a quasi off-roader that’s part pickup and part SUV.
Inside a 13.4-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard. The driver’s gauge cluster is digital as well with a 12.3-inch screen. Epic’s Unreal Engine powers both screens, which features class-leading animations. This technology is a huge leap forward over GM’s current infotainment system. The vehicle still has plenty of buttons, though, as functions such as climate control are separate from the screen.
The general’s electric era
The Hummer EV is a big step for General Motors and signals a market shift. GM started its EV push in the ’90s with the EV1, which was revived in spirit with the Volt in 2010. GM released the small Chevy Bolt in 2017. None of these cars sold in large numbers, frankly, because they were uninspiring and, and well, cars. General Motors and others like Ford largely stopped developing cars as the market shifted to SUVs and pickups. GM is moving past the small commuter car with the Hummer EV in favor of a large pickup — a market segment GM knows well.
The Chevy Silverado joins the Ford F-150 and Ram Pickup as the top three selling vehicles in the United States. The three pickups outsold the next six vehicles combined. Trucks are a major market for American automakers, and the Hummer EV is clearly designed to test the water. With a unibody construction, it’s easy to imagine General Motors releasing an SUV version of the Hummer EV too. This would follow GM’s recent roadmap of moving away from cars and into SUVs and crossovers.
The Hummer EV’s unusual shape speaks to engineering limitations and partly explains why the GMC Hummer EV is not branded as a Chevy Silverado or GMC Serra. Much like the Tesla Cybertruck, the Hummer EV is likely based on a unibody construction similar to a passenger car. At this time, or rather when development began on the Hummer EV, it’s likely GM could not produce a unibody pickup with the same key specifications around towing, cargo capacity, and range of its Silverado pickups. An electric Silverado (or Ford F-150) must match its internal combustion counterpart on key areas — something the Hummer EV fails to do.
An electric Silverado is in the works. GM’s Mary Barra revealed the obvious during an interview in 2019. The automaker has only released one detail about the upcoming pickup: According to a financial document from July 2020, the electric pickup will have a 400 mile range.
General Motors has another electric pickup in the works through a significant investment with Nikola. On September 8, General Motors announced a $2 million investment in Michigan-based Nikola Motors. With the investment, General Motors gained access to Nikola’s EV development while also agreeing to manufacture Nikola’s Badger pickup. However, the deal is in question after fraud claims caused the company’s chairman to step down.
GM discontinued the Hummer brand during the auto crisis of 2008. It’s largely remembered for the monstrous H1 and H2 SUVs, the first being a civilian version of the military’s Humvee and the second being an over-the-top SUV. Towards the end of Hummer’s life, the company offered a pickup version of its smaller H3 model.
GMC Hummer EV vs. Tesla Cybertruck
Comparisons between the Hummer EV and Tesla Cybertrucks are inevitable. Much of the Cybertruck is still speculation and GM failed to reveal key details about the Hummer EV. Tesla unveiled the so-called super-truck eleven months ago and has been rather quiet since about the vehicle. In May, Elon Musk tweeted that the production version of the Cybertruck will likely be about the same size as the prototype.
At the time of the Cybertruck’s reveal, Tesla said it would be available starting at $39,000 for a single motor version capable of pulling 7,500 pounds and driving 250 miles on a charge. An AWD dual-motor and tri-motor version would also be available for $49,000 and $69,000, respectively. It’s unclear if those price points or specs will be true with Tesla releases the Cybertruck.
The Tesla Cybertruck and GMC Hummer EV share a lot in common, including a unibody construction that gives the vehicles their unusual look. Both the Hummer EV and Cybertruck feature unique C pillars that act as a flying buttress. These pillars add significant strength to the vehicle and compensate for the unibody design.
Generally, pickup trucks are built as two pieces: the body is placed on a frame. This is done for several reasons, but most notable here is because a frame can handle the significant twist caused by the drivetrain running from the front axle to the back. And in an EV, truck or car, there isn’t a drivetrain connecting the front and rear axels. This allows the automakers to employ a lighter unibody construction, which is often safer for the occupants. However, these bodies need to be as stiff as possible to help with towing and hauling. Honda leaned into this design with the unibody Ridgeline pickup.
Truck buyers have different expectations
The Hummer EV is a significant step for General Motors as it pushes into the electric future. Some buyers are not ready for electric vehicles, and truck buyers could be among the hardest demographic to convince.
Following the reveal of the Tesla Cybertruck in 2019, the company hooked a prototype up to the tow bar of a newer Ford F-150. The test was widely panned, as many pointed out the flaws that resulted in a Cybertruck win. Tesla was trying to demonstrate that its truck, though electric, can still do truck stuff. GMC will likely employ similar feats of strength, including commercials where gruff men proving a voiceover while the Hummer EV is towing a boat.
Truck buyers expect several things. One, the truck has to have a strong stance, which the Hummer EV has in bundles. Two, most truck buyers look at towing capacity even if they never tow anything. Towing capacity in trucks is much like horsepower in sports cars — more the better even if it’s not used. And towing capacity is only partially dictated by the powertrain’s power output. The rest comes from the design of the platform and how it can handle pulling weight. It’s unclear at this point if the Hummer EV, even with its crazy 1,000 HP, will be able to out tow a Silverado or F-150.
The Hummer falls short in several categories critical to pickup buyers: range and hauling capacity.
Pickups come with large gas tanks giving them amazing range. For instance, my 2016 Ford F-150 has a 32-gallon tank. If driven carefully, the truck can get 700 miles on one tank. When towing a trailer, the range is cut in half but exceeds 300 miles on a tank. GMC says the Hummer has a 350 range but has yet to say the range when towing a 7,000 travel trailer.
The electric pickup wars
With a release date of 2022, the Hummer EV is far from a sure bet. GM has plenty of time to rework the machine, adding or decreasing the range as technology improves before its release.
GM has competition too. The electric pickup race is just starting and Ford has the most to lose.
The Ford F-150 is the top selling vehicle in the American market, and has been for generations. The truck is the foundation of Ford’s success. In 2019 the company released a video demonstration of an early prototype electric powertrain that was able to pull (note: not tow) 1 million pounds. To help its efforts Ford invested hundreds of millions into Michigan-based Rivian, maker of an electric pickup platform. Recent reports place the viability of that partnership in question, but Ford is likely working at full tilt towards its electric pickups.
Automotive startups are also looking at building electric pickups. Rivian intends to build and sell its own pickup and SUV. Lordstown Motors, an outfit out of Lordstown, Ohio, revealed its pickup design in June and said it would retail for $52,000. And there’s more: Bollinger Motors, Workhorse, and Nikola.
Electric pickups are ripe for an electric takeover and GM just threw down a Hummer-sized hammer.