Virgin Orbit targets launch window on December 19 for second orbital test launch

Virgin Orbit has announced the target timing for its next orbital flight attempt, which follows a demonstration launch earlier this year that went mostly well – right up until its rocket separated from the carrier launch craft and fired up its own engines for the crucial rest of the trip to space. The company says that it’s undertaken a number of upgrades based on that first try, however, including updates to the engine systems, carrier aircraft and data systems to hopefully have a better demo flight the second time around.

The new launch window is December 19, between the hours of 10 AM to 2 PM PST. There’s also a backup window set for December 20 ranging across similar hours, the company says, and others in the following weeks, in case it needs to be rescheduled for nay reason. This demonstration will involve a full launch cycle of the entire Virgin Orbit launch system, including its Cosmic Girl launch aircraft (a modiified 747 passenger airliner) and LauncherOne, the rocket that detaches from Cosmic Girl at cruising altitude before firing up its own engines to make the rest of the trip to space with small satellite payloads on board.

Virgin Orbit’s system is unique because it takes off and lands from a traditional airport, eliminating the need for specialized launch sites and opening up the potential of relatively low-lift global launch flexibility. It also have the potential to offer cost and scheduling advantages to small satellite companies looking to launch just one or a few spacecraft, without having to wait for timing on a rideshare mission on a larger rocket like one from SpaceX, or pay a premium for something like Rocket Lab’s offering.

Last time around in May, Virgin Orbit’s flight went perfectly from takeoff through the separation of LauncherOne from the carrier aircraft. The rocket even fired up its engines on time as planned, but the engines cut off essentially right away due to a built-in safety system that also worked as planned when it detected some unusual readings.

With this second attempt, Virgin Orbit wants to show that it’s system works from that point on, as well, with a full first-stage powered flight, and operation of the upper stage. Stakes are a bit higher this time around, as on board will be actual customer satellites, even though this is technically still a demonstration mission the primary purpose of which is to collect data.

The 10 payloads on board are from NASA, and represent a number of different scientific and educational programs created entirely by U.S.-based universities and academic institutions.

Dear Sophie: What I’m thankful for

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for being a part of the genesis of “Dear Sophie” over the course of this year. As I reflect on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I’m appreciative of how much all of us around the world have come to know in 2020. We are all interconnected, regardless of where we were born or wherever we currently reside. This year has included major, transformative events. These changes serve us to better know what we want and what we don’t. As a result, I am positive that our future experiences will be enhanced.

Looking back over the last year, I’m appreciative of President Trump’s digitization effort to improve the H-1B lottery process.

Looking forward, it’s exhilarating that increasing access to immigration opportunities is a major priority for President-elect Biden. I’m confident the Biden-Harris administration will support the U.S. embracing our roots as a land of opportunity. Moving into 2021 we will recognize our immigrant heritage, welcome newcomers and recognize the important contributions of immigrants for a better world.

There’s so much to be thankful for:

I’m appreciative of you, my readers, and the messages and feedback I receive from you about this column, questions you have and topics you would like to see covered. I appreciate TechCrunch and Extra Crunch for this platform to share my thoughts, experiences and knowledge.

I’m appreciative of all of our clients from around the world who we’ve been able to successfully support. Many moments this year seemed bleak, but we were able to come through. I appreciate their many contributions to the U.S. and creating health solutions and jobs as they have gone on to launch and scale innovative startups in Silicon Valley and beyond.

I’m appreciative of my amazing team at Alcorn Immigration Law and for our successes in supporting folks to come to live and work in the U.S. and achieve their dreams. And I’m appreciative of our team to compile a “64 Questions to Ask Your Immigration Attorney,” a checklist of questions you should ask when interviewing immigration attorneys before starting the immigration process. I’m appreciative for having the opportunity to share my knowledge on my podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups — this week’s podcast is all about appreciation!

And finally, I’m appreciative of my amazing job. I have the privilege of supporting people from all around the world to create their dreams. It’s humbling and inspiring to listen to my clients’ stories, hopes and dreams. It’s the most magnificent chess game to identify and tailor immigration strategies that best fit their unique situation, priorities and timing.

Part of why being an immigration attorney inspires me is because our amazing clients entrust us to support them in navigating the U.S. immigration system to make their dream a reality. We had many major legal victories this year:

I appreciate the client who was on an E-2 Visa for Treaty Investors as an employee. He was desperate to join an early-stage startup and was in a difficult bind of needing to get expedited approval in the pandemic and be able to provide his contractual notice to his current employer. We all knew it was risky, so I’m proud of our team for successfully petitioning for the startup to sponsor him in O-1A Visa for Extraordinary Ability status.

I also appreciate the aspiring startup founder we helped to gain independence from a corporate employer by assisting him with self-petitioning his green card. We succeeded in getting him approved for an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) exceptional ability green card.

I am also appreciating that we successfully supported a prospective startup co-founder to remain in the U.S. while maintaining his position in line for a green card. A prominent VC required that he immediately leave his current employer and begin working full time for the very early-stage startup prior to investing $6 million. This founder had been bound at a prior company in L-1A Visa for Intracompany Transferee Managers and Executives, and he didn’t want to lose his midstream green card process. We successfully transitioned him to the new company quickly and secured him green card portability. He can now focus on the startup and spending time with his family.

While most U.S. consulates remained closed, I appreciate that we were able to support our client to get an E-3 Visa interview, have her visa approved and be able to move to the U.S., even in the middle of the pandemic.

Notably, we helped a client avoid having to return to her home country for two years after her J-1 Educational and Cultural Exchange Visa was set to expire, and her employer was about to do a round of layoffs. We guided her through the green card process, including helping her prepare for an interview at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as accompanying her to the interview. Instead of being banished from the U.S., now she is celebrating that it is her permanent home.

And there are so many more stories like these.

I’m also appreciative that we launched our first online immigration course, Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp. Many of our client successes stem from options such as the O-1A nonimmigrant visa, as well as the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and the EB-2 NIW green card. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to record a series of classes that can help anybody meet the criteria for U.S. immigration.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you caught a glimpse of this feeling of appreciation for people and experiences in your life. I feel exhilarated and eager about the future and to see what’s ahead. 2020 has taught me that we are empowered at this moment because we have the freedom to choose how we feel. We can always choose to love and appreciate unconditionally. New opportunities are ahead that will support us all.

Thank you for being a part of “Dear Sophie.”

Joyfully,

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

C3.ai’s initial IPO pricing guidance spotlights the public market’s tech appetite

On the heels of news that DoorDash is targeting an initial IPO valuation up to $27 billion, C3.ai also dropped a new S-1 filing detailing a first-draft guess of what the richly valued company might be worth after its debut.

C3.ai posted an initial IPO price range of $31 to $34 per share, with the company anticipating a sale of 15.5 million shares at that price. The enterprise-focused artificial intelligence company is also selling $100 million of stock at its IPO price to Spring Creek Capital, and another $50 million to Microsoft at the same terms. And there are 2.325 million shares reserved for its underwriters as well.

The total tally of shares that C3.ai will have outstanding after its IPO bloc is sold, Spring Creek and Microsoft buy in, and its underwriters take up their option, is 99,216,958. At the extremes of its initial IPO price range, the company would be worth between $3.08 billion and $3.37 billion using that share count.

Those numbers decline by around $70 and $80 million, respectively, if the underwriters do not purchase their option.

So is the IPO a win for the company at those prices? And is it a win for all C3.ai investors? Amazingly enough, it feels like the answers are yes and no. Let’s explore why.

Slowing growth, rising valuation

If we just look at C3.ai’s revenue history in chunks, you can argue a growth story for the company; that it grew from $73.8 million in the the two quarters of 2019 ending July 31, to $81.8 million in revenue during the same portion of 2020. That’s growth of just under 11% on a year-over-year basis. Not great, but positive.

Twitter’s Audio Spaces test includes transcriptions, speaker controls, and reporting features

Earlier this month, Twitter announced it would soon begin testing its own Clubhouse rival, called Audio Spaces. The new product will allow Twitter users to gather in dedicated spaces for live conversations with another person or with groups of people. While the company showed off a handful of screenshots of the product at the time of the announcement, there were few specifics about how Audio Spaces would work. Now, we know a bit more about Audio Spaces’ feature set, thanks to some digging by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong. 

Wong enabled the private beta in the Twitter app and took screenshots that show how Audio Spaces and its features would look in action. Of course, these features could change before the feature later rolls out to the public, but it gives an idea about how Twitter is currently thinking about the product.

The images show that users will be able to apply the same sort of conversation controls that are today available for tweets to Audio Spaces, as well. This will allow users to configure their Audio Space to be open to anyone who wants to join, only to people they follow, or only to people they specifically invite to join.

Users can invite others to their Space in a number of ways, too, including via DM (direct message), by posting a tweet, or copying a link that can be shared elsewhere.

When joining a space, people will enter the space with their microphone disabled to limit noise. As the conversation progresses, they can react to what’s being said with a variety of emoji, like the “100,” raised hand, fist, peace sign, and waving hand.

In addition, the Audio Space’s creator will be able to adjust who can speak at any time after the dedicated room has been created. From an in-app menu, they’ll be able to manage the speakers, adjust other settings, view the rules, as well as share feedback or report the space, among other things.

One interesting finding is that Audio Spaces will include transcriptions of the chat, according to this menu. That’s a differentiating feature, compared with some other audio chat room services. While ostensibly a feature designed for accessibility, it could also prove useful in keeping the conversations appropriate and respectful, since users would know their words were being written down.

This could help address one issue with the private chat room model, where live conversations have proven to be hard to moderate. Despite being in an invite-only beta, Clubhouse, for example, already experienced a handful of incidents of moderation failure, including the harassment of a New York Times reporter and another conversation that delved into anti-Semitism.

Twitter, which has struggled for years to combat abuse on its platform, was a questionable place to be testing this unproven new format for online socializing.

It wasn’t clear how Twitter would be approach moderation for these audio chat rooms, but it appears the transcription feature could a deterrent to toxic speech while the in-app reporting feature allows for a more direct solution to problems that crop up. When users choose the “Report this Space” option, they can then choose to report across a variety of categories, including self-harm, violence, sexual content, child safety, private information or abusive behavior.

Because Audio Spaces is in private beta, testers will also have access to a “Share Feedback” option that allows them to DM the account @TwitterSpaces.

Wong also noted Audio Spaces is using Periscope for its backend, according to her digging in the app’s code.

Twitter earlier said Audio Spaces would be launching to a small group of users. During tests, those users would include a group of people who are “disproportionately impacted by abuse and harm on the platform: women and those from marginalized backgrounds,” Twitter Staff Product Designer Maya Gold Patterson had noted, when introducing the feature in a briefing for reporters this month.

Twitter hasn’t yet commented on Wong’s findings.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will step down to make way for the Biden administration

The Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has announced he will leave his position on January 20 as President-elect Biden is sworn in. Pai’s tenure has been a controversial one, and while he would almost certainly like to be remembered for his efforts to “bridge the digital divide,” as he was fond of saying, it is the dismantling of net neutrality that will be his legacy.

It is traditional at the FCC for the Chairman to leave when the administration changes parties. Pai took over when Tom Wheeler, who chaired the Commission at the end of the Obama years, resigned upon Trump’s election. The Biden administration has not announced its pick for the new leader of the communications agency.

In an official FCC memo, Pai thanked his colleagues and summarized the accomplishments of his four years at the helm (as, it must also be said, the first Commissioner of Asian descent):

Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety.

I am proud of how productive this Commission has been, from commencing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, to opening 1,245 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, to adopting more than 25 orders through our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, to aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad, to designating 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and much, much more.

Notably absent from that list is Pai’s unfortunate magnum opus and arguably the effort that got him the job: the elimination of 2015’s net neutrality rules. The tremendously dishonest and partisan campaign to overturn these popular and important curbs on broadband companies put a stink on Pai’s tenure at the outset that no amount of good work could wash out.

For as always, the bulk of the FCC’s duties fly under the public’s radar, and a great deal of work was done under Pai, as under any other administration, invisibly and thanklessly. (Though in some cases less invisibly than before — Pai’s FCC did make improvements to transparency, in some ways anyhow.)

Surely Pai’s greatest priority was, as indeed he often stated, ameliorating the “digital divide” that prevents millions of Americans from enjoying affordable, fast internet. Numerous new programs and funds were created to improve this situation, but Pai was hampered by bad information — essentially provided on the honor system by ISPs themselves — and the seemingly endless rollout of 5G, which we’re all still waiting on.

His final effort, alas, will not much improve the opinion of him at large. As Trump raged impotently about Section 230, a law that shields internet companies from liability for the actions of their users, Pai took up that flag and announced his intention to revisit and perhaps change the interpretation of it — a month before the election. The simpering, plainly political nature of the effort, almost certain now to be aborted entirely, attracted considerable criticism, makes for a poor final chapter in an already troubling story.

The next step for the FCC is the nomination and confirmation of a new Chairman and replacement Commissioners, and though several names have been floated by political insiders, no one has emerged yet as the heir apparent.