Rocket Report: Billionaire backs Scottish spaceport, Relativity bags a bundle

Images of Electron rocket.
Enlarge / Rocket Lab’s Catch of the Day recovery vessel nears the Electron rocket’s first stage.

Welcome to Edition 3.24 of the Rocket Report! It’s December, and we could see a number of big smallsat launches this month, including from Virgin Orbit and Astra. But in the immediate future, our eyes are on South Texas, where a Starship prototype is due to make a high leap early next week.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Aevum unveils its Ravn X launch system. Until now, Aevum has largely operated in the background. But now, it’s ready to show off some hardware, and it’s starting with the “Ravn X” launch system’s first stage, Ars reports. This autonomous aircraft and launch vehicle measures 24 meters long and has a wingspan of 18 meters. It has a gross takeoff mass of 25,000kg—massive for an uncrewed aerial vehicle. It will drop a rocket capable of carrying 100kg to Sun-synchronous orbit.

Seeking to make satellite delivery a commodity … The company is targeting next year for its first launch. Even as it has finalized the Ravn X first stage, Aevum has been developing a rocket with two liquid-fueled engines for its main stage, each with 5,000 pounds of thrust, and a single upper-stage engine. These engines have been hot-fire tested beyond their full duration burns and have gone through qualification and acceptance testing, the company said. Aevum claims it has secured launch contracts worth more than $1 billion over the next decade, including the Air Force’s ASLON-45 mission.

Virgin Orbit sets date for second launch attempt. On Monday, Virgin Orbit announced it would try a second orbital flight of its LauncherOne rocket on Saturday, December 19. The four-hour window will open at 10am PT (18:00 UTC). During the company’s first demo flight last May, the rocket was successfully dropped from its carrier aircraft, and its engine ignited for a few seconds before running out of LOX due to a blocked line.

This time, there will be a customer … That mission carried no payloads, but this one will. Through its Venture Class Launch Services program, NASA is providing nine CubeSat missions comprising 10 total spacecraft to fly on the Launch Demo 2 mission. The company said it still has to conduct a wet dress rehearsal before embarking upon its launch attempt. Good luck! (submitted by Ken the Bin)

The easiest way to keep up with Eric Berger’s space reporting is to sign up for his newsletter, we’ll collect his stories in your inbox.

Relativity Space adds $500 million to funding coffers. The launch company that aims to 3D-print nearly the entirety of its rockets announced it had closed the large series D

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ESPN College GameDay 2020: Week 14 Location Hosts, TV Schedule and Predictions | Bleacher Report

Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall hands the ball off to CJ Marable during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Appalachian State Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Conway, S.C. Coastal Carolina won 34-23. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Richard Shiro/Associated Press

It’s been a historic 2020 season for Coastal Carolina. After becoming an FBS program when they joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2017, the Chanticleers had three straight losing seasons, never finishing better than 5-7 (which they did in 2018 and 2019).

This season, though, the team has not only already secured a winning record, but it’s also looking to go undefeated. But first, it will make more history on Saturday.

For the first time in school history, it will be the host of ESPN’s College GameDay, the popular weekly college football kickoff show that sets the stage for the day’s action.

College GameDay will begin at 9 a.m. ET at Brooks Stadium in Conway, S.C.

Originally, Coastal Carolina was set to host Liberty on Saturday afternoon, but that matchup was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Flames’ program. The Chanticleers are now set to host BYU in a matchup that was made official on Thursday and could lead to one of these teams getting an opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Here’s the full Top 25 schedule for this week, along with picks for each game, followed by a closer look at this spontaneous BYU-Coastal Carolina matchup that could be the most exciting game of the day.

           

Week 14 Top 25 Schedule, Predictions

Friday, Dec. 4

No. 25 Louisiana-Lafayette at Appalachian State, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

                

Saturday, Dec. 5

No. 4 Ohio State at Michigan State, noon ET, ABC

No. 5 Texas A&M at Auburn, noon ET, ESPN

No. 15 Oklahoma State at TCU, noon ET, ESPN2

Western Carolina at No. 17 North Carolina, noon ET, ACC Network

Rice at No. 21 Marshall, noon ET, ESPN+

Syracuse at No. 2 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC

No. 6 Florida at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

West Virginia at No. 9 Iowa State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

No. 12 Indiana at No. 16 Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

No. 19 Iowa at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

No. 24 Tulsa at Navy, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Vanderbilt at No. 8 Georgia, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Stanford at No. 22 Washington, 4 p.m. ET, Fox

No. 13 BYU at No. 18 Coastal Carolina, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

No. 23 Oregon at California, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

No. 3 Clemson at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

No. 1 Alabama at LSU, 8 p.m. ET, CBS

No. 10 Miami at Duke, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network

Baylor at No. 11 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

        

Sunday, Dec. 6

Washington State at No. 20 USC, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

Picks in bold.

           

BYU-Coastal Carolina Preview, Prediction

By agreeing to travel across the country to Coastal Carolina, BYU is putting its undefeated season on the line.

The Cougars weren’t scheduled to play again until Dec. 12, when they’re likely to earn a home win over San Diego State. Now, they have

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Global soils underpin life but future looks ‘bleak’, warns UN report

Global soils are the source of all life on land but their future looks “bleak” without action to halt degradation, according to the authors of a UN report.



a truck traveling down a dirt road: Photograph: Zsolt Czeglédi/EPA


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Zsolt Czeglédi/EPA

A quarter of all the animal species on Earth live beneath our feet and provide the nutrients for all food. Soils also store as much carbon as all plants above ground and are therefore critical in tackling the climate emergency. But there also are major gaps in knowledge, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report, which is the first on the global state of biodiversity in soils.

The report was compiled by 300 scientists, who describe the worsening state of soils as at least as important as the climate crisis and destruction of the natural world above ground. Crucially, it takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning urgent protection and restoration of the soils that remain is needed.

The scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, pollution and global heating.

“Soil organisms play a crucial role in our everyday life by working to sustain life on Earth,” said Ronald Vargas, of the FAO and the secretary of the Global Soil Partnership.

Prof Richard Bardgett, of the University of Manchester, who was a lead author of the report, said: “There is a vast reservoir of biodiversity living in the soil that is out of sight and is generally out of mind. But few things matter more to humans because we rely on the soil to produce food. There’s now pretty strong evidence that a large proportion of the Earth’s surface has been degraded as a result of human activities.”



a truck driving down a dirt road: Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution.


© Photograph: Zsolt Czeglédi/EPA
Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution.

Related: UK is 30-40 years away from ‘eradication of soil fertility’, warns Gove

Since the Industrial Revolution, about 135bn tonnes of soil has been lost from farmland, according to Prof Rattan Lal, the 2020 winner of the World Food prize.

Video: Zoo welcomes 2 red pandas (ABC News)

Zoo welcomes 2 red pandas

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People should be worried, said Bardgett. “If things carry on as they are, the outlook is bleak, unquestionably. But I think it’s not too late to introduce measures now.”

Prof Nico Eisenhauer, of Leipzig University, another lead author of the report, said: “It is a major issue that we are dependent on this thin layer that is sometimes just a couple of centimetres, sometimes several metres, but a very vulnerable, living skin.”

Related: The world needs topsoil to grow 95% of its food – but it’s rapidly disappearing

Soils simultaneously produce food, store carbon and purify water, he said, so they are “at least as important” as the climate and above-ground biodiversity crises. “If you’re

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Stanford University Report Ranks Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mohammed Cherkaoui Among the World’s Top 2% of Scientists

In the discipline of “materials” science, Dr. Cherkaoui ranked in the top 3,000 of the world’s more than 177,000 researchers in the field. He is best known for his pioneering work in micromechanics and nuclear engineering, and he has authored more than 200 publications including the first-ever micromechanics textbook. His international accolades include the France Medal from the National Center for Scientific Research, the Obama Award under the Material Genome Initiative, and the Lorraine Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer. He has also achieved a tenured professorship at Georgia Institute of Technology and a Boeing Endowed Chair and professorship at Mississippi State University.

“I am humbled by this recognition, and I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my co-authors and the vast network of Ph.D. students and contributors who have supported my work throughout my career,” said Dr. Cherkaoui. “I am proud to bring LIU to the forefront of global research as we strive to become a world-leading, pioneering university of the future.”

Dr. Cherkaoui was a pioneering influence of the International University of Rabat in Morocco, the International Joint Units (UMI) research institution between the French government and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the France National Center for Scientific Research. He is a member of the European Commission material science division, and he is the associate editor of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Journal of Engineering Materials and Technology.

“Dr. Cherkaoui’s visionary leadership and collaborative approach to interdisciplinary research across LIU has led to some of our most forward-thinking initiatives such as our Digital Health Institute and competitive artificial intelligence program,” said LIU President Dr. Kimberly R. Cline. “I am proud to see him recognized as one of the world’s greatest scientists; an honor he truly deserves.” 

About Long Island University
Long Island University, founded in 1926, continues to redefine higher education, providing high quality academic instruction by world-class faculty. Recognized by Forbes for its emphasis on experiential learning and by the Brookings Institution for its “value added” to student outcomes, LIU offers close to 265 accredited programs, with a network of 267,000 alumni that includes industry leaders and entrepreneurs all across the globe. Visit liu.edu for more information. 

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Report: Endangered Mouse Nears ‘Zero’ in Southern New Mexico | New Mexico News

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists are asking for an independent investigation into U.S. Forest Service practices in southern New Mexico, saying hundreds of grazing violations on the Lincoln National Forest have pushed an endangered mouse closer to extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity in its request pointed to a November report that looked at the condition of the habitat used by the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the connectivity between those patches of habitat and how long the tiny rodent has been missing from those areas. The report indicated that the mouse’s population in one stretch of southern New Mexico was near zero.

Robin Silver, a cofounder of the group, wrote in a letter sent last week to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen that local and regional forest officials have failed to issue any noncompliance letters to ranchers who graze in the area despite more than 330 instances in which cattle were found in locations that had been fenced off for the mouse.

“We’re witnessing an extinction in progress,” Silver said in statement sent to The Associated Press. “We hope an inspector general’s investigation can shed more light on this tragic situation and give these adorable little mice a fighting chance at survival.”

While it’s unclear whether forest officials will consider the request, regional agency spokesman Shayne Martin said Thursday that several projects have been dedicated to establishing critical habitat for the mouse and looking at what strategies might work best over the long-term to bolster the population.

“What I can say is that our agency has put significant scientific research behind all actions taken, to include restoration of critical riparian areas for all species,” Martin said. “We’ve also worked closely with ranchers to ensure that grazing in these areas follows adaptive management measures that considers the full array of human and environment effects.”

The mice live near streams and depend on tall grass to hide from predators. They hibernate for about nine months, emerging in the late spring to gorge themselves before mating, giving birth and going back into hibernation. They normally live about three years.

The latest study aims to set the stage for long-term habitat planning for the mouse. So far, the focus has been on improving those patches of habitat that are considered healthier and have more potential for supporting the mouse.

The research suggests that efforts start with patches immediately adjacent to those areas already occupied by the mouse and then address the occupied patches before moving outward. The report states any successful long-distance dispersal by the rodents to colonize new meadows would be extremely unlikely.

Biologists say growing mouse numbers is a challenge because of the small population they have to start with and the lack of more suitable habitat.

Three decades ago, the mice were found at 17 locations in the Sacramento Mountains on the Lincoln National Forest. Now, it’s just one. The report noted that the downward trajectory of the population continued in 2020.

The U.S.

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College Football Odds Week 14: Picks Against the Spread for Updated Top 25 Games | Bleacher Report

Ken Ruinard/Associated Press

Friday, Dec. 4

No. 25 Louisiana-Lafayette at Appalachian State (-2.5), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

                  

Saturday, Dec. 5

No. 4 Ohio State (-24) at Michigan State, noon ET, ABC

No. 5 Texas A&M (-7) at Auburn, noon ET, ESPN

No. 15 Oklahoma State (-2.5) at TCU, noon ET, ESPN2

Western Carolina at No. 17 North Carolina (-49.5), noon ET, ACC Network

Rice at No. 21 Marshall (-23.5), noon ET, ESPN+

Liberty at No. 18 Coastal Carolina (-10.5), 2 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Syracuse at No. 2 Notre Dame (-33.5), 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC

No. 6 Florida (-17.5) at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

West Virginia at No. 9 Iowa State (-6.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

No. 12 Indiana at No. 16 Wisconsin (-14.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

No. 19 Iowa (-14) at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

No. 24 Tulsa (-12.5) at Navy, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Vanderbilt at No. 8 Georgia (-35.5), 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Stanford at No. 22 Washington (-11.5), 4 p.m. ET, Fox

No. 23 Oregon (-9.5) at California, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

No. 3 Clemson (-22.5) at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

No. 1 Alabama (-29.5) at LSU, 8 p.m. ET, CBS

No. 10 Miami (-14.5) at Duke, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network

Baylor at No. 11 Oklahoma (-22.5), 8 p.m. ET, Fox

                  

Sunday, Dec. 6

Washington State at No. 20 USC (-14.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

Picks in bold against the spread. Odds via DraftKings.

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Adam Kramer’s College Football Locks and Top Bets for Week 14 | Bleacher Report

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) walks off the field after throwing an pick six interception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Picking winners is hard. These days, it’s getting harder. Trying to dissect college football games against the spread was already difficult before COVID-19 put every game in doubt.

That is not an excuse. My troubles of late when it comes to picking winners cannot and should not be blamed on that. That said, it adds a wrinkle to an already challenging process. And like everyone else, I must adjust to the unknown.

Now, about last week. Not great. Bad luck (again) coupled with a couple of ghoulish selections, and I am once again in the doghouse. Two wins, five losses and two games that were not played. (This is the part where I say the games that weren’t played would’ve been winners, and you just politely nod along.) The overall record is now 33-33.

We were scorching hot. Now we’re ice-cold. Our fortune is about to change, and it’s about to change now. Before we dive into this week’s batch of rebound selections, let’s explore the good and the bad from the previous week.

       

The Good: Iowa State

Close game. Clean win. No tomfoolery. After this outcome, I thought I was in for a monster week. Well, I was clearly wrong. The over in Pittsburgh-Clemson was also a nice winner, although I was emotionally distraught from all of the losers at that point. I needed more Iowa State victories in my life.

        

The Bad: Plenty, but Let’s Go with SMU-East Carolina

Gross. Ugh. Yikes. Gadzooks. For regulars of this piece, I have regularly complimented East Carolina this season. But I thought the double-digit point spread for SMU was a sign of things to come against a program that is still figuring it out. I knew this game was over after about eight minutes. Not proud. Punt this pick into the sun.

        

The time is now.

Here are the Week 14 selections, using point spreads provided by DraftKings.

          

Alabama vs. LSU (Under 68.5)

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Alabama is going to score plenty. Let’s not shy away from that. If you want to tap into the potential revenge angle after last year’s loss, go for it. No issues there. Whether Nick Saban decides to win by four touchdowns or more (the current spread) won’t impact this logic one iota.

A few factors point toward the under. For starters, LSU’s best offensive player just opted out. Terrace Marshall Jr., the Tigers’ star wideout this year, announced he was leaving the team to prepare for the NFL draft after last week’s loss. This is suboptimal.

It’s even more suboptimal when you consider that Alabama has allowed a total of 16 points in the last three games. (Suboptimal for the Tigers, potentially optimal for the under.)

Finally, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. can at least contain Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith assuming he covers him much of the game. What a matchup, by the way. Regardless of how you feel about this pick or this game, you should watch just for that.

The

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LeBron James’ Career Earnings After Signing $85M Lakers Contract Extension | Bleacher Report

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James walks back after making a 3-point shot during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Houston Rockets Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LeBron James continues to stockpile cash in his NBA career after agreeing a contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. 

Rich Paul, James’ agent, told Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium that the four-time NBA MVP has agreed to an $85 million extension that will keep him with the Lakers through 2022-23. 

Darren Rovell of The Action Network noted when the extension is done that James will have earned $428 million just on his NBA contracts alone:

Even before agreeing to his extension, James has already made more money through NBA contracts than any player in league history. 

Per Spotrac, James moved $9.5 million ahead of Kevin Garnett ($334,304,240) after signing his deal with the Lakers in July 2018. Kobe Bryant ($323,312,307), Chris Paul ($299,909,419) and Shaquille O’Neal ($286,344,668) round out the top five. 

Of course, James’ on-court earnings don’t make up his entire portfolio. Forbes estimated the four-time NBA Finals MVP earned $60 million in 2020 through endorsement deals, his SpringHill Entertainment production company and the UNINTERRUPTED media company. 

James has dabbled in acting in the offseason during his career. He was a co-star in the 2015 movie Trainwreck and voiced a character in the 2018 animated film Smallfoot. The 35-year-old will have his first starring role in Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is scheduled to premiere on July 16, 2021. 

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Boston University Weekly COVID-19 Report: November 25 to December 1 | The Brink

Extra COVID-19 tests urged for everyone as cases surge from Thanksgiving

Now that Boston University is publishing its COVID-19 testing data on a public-facing dashboard, Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research, and Judy Platt, director of BU Student Health Services, are providing a weekly update on the overall health of the BU community.

“We knew this was going to happen—we expected this,” Judy Platt says. 

Boston University’s Clinical Testing Lab is detecting a fresh uptick in coronavirus cases linked to Thanksgiving travel. Between November 25 and December 1, 46 students tested positive for coronavirus, as well as 28 faculty and staff. On December 1 alone, 26 members of the BU community received positive test results.

“It’s so critical now, during this surge, for people to be as forthcoming as possible,” Platt says. “When the call comes in from contact tracing, we need people to answer quickly and disclose all their contacts. We still have the ability to control this.”

Platt says BU’s contact tracing is seeing many cases associated with Thanksgiving travel. “Most of the close contacts being reported are people from outside of BU residential households,” she says. People who traveled for Thanksgiving likely spent time with people outside their typical household, and may have not been wearing masks—especially during a holiday full of eating and drinking.

“We want to stress the importance of wearing a mask,” Gloria Waters says. “If you’re taking off your mask around other people, that’s most likely how you’re going to end up getting infected or infecting others.”

Waters says students should make sure their Learn from Anywhere status is current so BU can properly calculate the campus community’s compliance with its coronavirus surveillance program. 

This week, everyone at BU is being asked to take an extra coronavirus test in an effort to identify positive cases early and isolate the infected. Undergraduates, who typically test twice per week, should seek out three tests per week. Graduate students, faculty, and staff should increase their weekly test by adding one more, for a total of two. Even Category 4 students, who do all of their schoolwork remotely and are not typically tested regularly, are asked to come to campus to take a coronavirus test to help quell the spread of the virus among off-campus student households.

“We’re offering testing to Category 4 students and already more than 750 of them have come in to get tested since Thanksgiving,” Waters says. “That option is still available for fully remote students.”

Waters is also encouraging BU faculty and staff who work in research laboratories to be extra vigilant about following COVID-19 protocols. She says anyone who sees safety issues in the lab—people not wearing masks, not maintaining social distance, or other issues—should report those concerns to a PI, lab head, or department chair.

Although 56 students are currently in isolation housing with active cases of coronavirus, Platt says BU is in a good position to accommodate more cases if they should

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Johnny Manziel Discusses Offers for Impermissible Benefits During College Career | Bleacher Report

Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel between drills at his alma mater during Texas A&M's football Pro Day in College Station, Texas, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel opened up about receiving impermissible benefits during his college career.

During an appearance on the YNK: You Know What I Mean? podcast, Manziel discussed people offering him money to do favors for them while he was playing at Texas A&M (warning: contains profanity):

Rumors and speculation about Manziel making money off of his name while playing for the Aggies is nothing new. 

Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar of ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported in 2013 that the NCAA was investigating Manziel for potentially receiving money “for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January.”

Rovell and Gubar reported Manziel agreed to the signings for a “five-figure flat fee” when he was in Miami to do press during the week leading up to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama. 

Manziel did receive a modest suspension in which he had to sit out the first half of Texas A&M’s 2013 season opener against Rice, but the NCAA ultimately ruled that he didn’t accept money. 

Texas A&M went 9-4 in 2013 and defeated Duke 52-48 in the Peach Bowl in what turned out to be Manziel’s final college game. The 27-year-old played two seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns before being released in March 2016. 

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