Virgin Galactic Set for Takeoff After FAA Approval


Billionaire Richard Branson’s spaceship company Virgin Galactic has been cleared for takeoff just a month after a successful test flight. Virgin Galactic’s first manned space flight departed from its new home port in New Mexico with two pilots.

This news comes following approval from the US aviation safety regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for Virgin Galactic to fly paying passengers to space, having had its general licence since 2016. The spaceflight company says this marks the first time the FAA has licenced a spaceline to fly the paying public.[1]

Since the approval of such commercial licence, the share price of Branson’s company increased by 35 per cent. Virgin Galactic has also already obtained 600 ticket reservations for flights from its new base, costing between $200,000 and $250,000 each.[2] Despite this, and the company so far having completed three test flights, it still has another three to go. The next will carry four passengers to test the spacecraft’s cabin, with the following flight having Branson himself on board. The final test flight will carry members of the Italian Air Force for astronaut training.

This will turn up the pressure on rivals in the space tourism sector. Branson’s space venture faces off against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX. All have been investing billions into their rocket startups. Branson is reported to be flying to space himself with the hopes of beating rival Bezos to the final frontier.[3] Bezos has announced that he will be onboard Blue Origin’s first space flight on 20 July.




Government Extends Business Support Measures, But Have They Done Enough?


The Government has now extended the temporary insolvency measures previously implemented, ‘providing further support to businesses during the pandemic’.[1]

Following the recent decision to delay the easing of Covid-19 restrictions from 21 June to 19 July, hospitality businesses are required to continue enforcing all social distancing guidelines as were put in place on 17 May, including limited capacity, wearing of masks unless sat down, and table service.

Despite this, business support measures including the furlough scheme and VAT reduction on hospitality  were initially confirmed to have not been extended past 30 June following the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s, questioning from the media. In addition to this, the ban on commercial tenancy evictions was due to be lifted on this date. This meant that businesses struggling financially due to the restrictions could be evicted from the premises, ultimately losing their business.

This has led to business leaders calling on the Treasury to extend such financial support measures in order to bridge the 18-day gap, demanding that the government values the importance of these businesses.

Whilst the government has confirmed that they will continue the furlough scheme, and protect companies from creditor enforcement action until 30 September where their debts relate to the pandemic, much of the current support will cease on 1 July. Business rate exemptions for retailers and hospitality firms will end, furlough wage contributions from employers will increase, and firms will have to start paying deferred VAT bills.[2]

Covid-19 business support was introduced to help businesses that were unable to trade, or whose ability to trade was impacted, due to the pandemic. Loss of such support measures will be detrimental to a number of small businesses, and even larger corporations due to the duration of the pandemic.



EA Confirmed as Victims of Cybertheft


Major game publisher Electronic Arts (EA) revealed this month that hackers have stolen valuable information from the company. The attackers downloaded the source code for a number of high-profile games, including FIFA 21, and it is said that around 780GB of data was stolen. It has also been found that the source code for EA’s Frostbite game engine, a proprietary tool used to create dozens of games, as well as various frameworks and SDKs have been appropriated.

Exploit on EA services first came to light upon the publication of Motherboard’s report, claiming that the hackers made multiple posts on several underground hacker’s forums, now putting the 780GB of stolen data up for sale on said forums.

Hackers are reported to have used stolen cookies and Slack to target EA. They first purchased stolen cookies on the Dark Web for just $10, then used such cookies to gain access to a Slack channel used internally by EA, tricking one of EA’s IT department employees into providing two multifactor authentication login tokens over Slack.[1] This worryingly simple social engineering strategy provided the hackers with full access to the company’s corporate network.

The company has reassured that no customer data was stolen, adding that they “have no reason to believe there is any risk to player privacy”. EA have since stated that they have already improved their security following the incident. Officials do not expect the hack to impact its games or its business, as it was not a ransomware attack, thus the company’s data was not scrambled with encryption.

Although such a hack could risk games being copied by other developers, it is unlikely that any mainstream competitor to EA would decide to use such data. EA is currently investigating the data breach, working with law enforcement agencies to determine the full extent of the hack.


China’s Zhurong Rover’s Selfie Released in Celebration of the Mission’s Success


China’s Zhurong rover landed on Mars on May 15, after spending seven months travelling from Earth and three months orbiting Mars. The robot has since sent a batch of images back.

One photo is of itself on Mars – a “selfie”. A second includes the rocket-powered platform that brought the rover to a soft touchdown, from which the vehicle drove down a ramp to get on to the surface. Both machines are adorned with Chinese flags.

There was also a picture looking out over the horizon from the landing site, an ancient impact basin in Mars’ northern hemisphere known as ‘Utopia Planitia’. The plain is the largest impact basin in the solar system, with an estimated diameter of 2050 miles.

These images were taken by a wireless camera carried by a tall mast, which also acts as the rover’s ‘eye’ to detect obstacles. The pictures were released by the Chinese space agency in celebration of the successful mission and the rover’s first month on the Red Planet, and introduced by the mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao.

The rover has six wheels and weighs 240kg, leaving visible tracks in the dust as it manoeuvred. Scientists are hoping to get at least 90 Martian days out of the robot. American space agency, Nasa, had two very similar vehicles in the 2000’s, ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’. Zhurong has a laser tool to zap rocks and assess their chemistry, much like the current American rovers, ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Perseverance’. It also has the ability to look for sub-surface water-ice due to a radar similar to that of Perseverance. This is to investigate whether Mark ever sustained life.

KLM Royal Dutch Airline Set to Launch New Routes and Resume Flights from Teesside, England

Following the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine, demand for long-haul leisure travel is expected to spike. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is one of many airlines looking to resume operations, though it is also adding new routes to its schedule.

KLM is reinstating a number of popular long-haul routes from Schiphol this winter, including flights to Orlando and Phuket four times a week, Barbados, Cancun, and Port of Spain three times a week, and Mombasa twice a week.

Chief Executive of KLM, Peiter Elbers, said “this represents the next significant step towards rebuilding [KLM’s] network for the benefit of our customers.” He added that as many as 99 European destinations will be served during the summer of 2021, also significantly strengthening their intercontinental network for this winter.

Connections to Schiphol, Amsterdam, will be also offered from throughout the UK, with Teesside International Airport’s long running flight link due to resume on 28 June, following a pause due to Covid-19 restrictions. This flight will operate four times a week.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen confirmed this service, disclosing that “Ever since the government has started to ease restrictions, I’ve been inundated with emails, social media messages and questions from people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool all asking the same thing, ‘When are KLM coming back to the airport?’”.

Last June, KLM and Teesside Airport signed a five-year deal. KLM is a long-standing partner of the airport and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, marking its best month in 14 years for the Teesside to Amsterdam route in September of that year. Peiter Elbers states that he is confident the business level will return to this point. “Aviation will come back for sure. It will recover. There is a future.”

Google Earth’s Newest Feature: Time-Lapse Back 37 Years

Google Earth has recently added an exciting, new feature to its system that allows users to go back 37 years in time and have a look at how the Earth has changed. Debuting in April 2021, this is the biggest update that Google has added so far, and took more than two-million hours for computers to complete. The images collated essentially form one large video – and it is believed to be the biggest video the Earth has ever seen!

The equivalent of more than half a million 4K high-resolution videos, the new time-lapse feature enables users to go as far back as the 1980s. Considering the size of the project, Google would not have been able to complete the new feature without help from its space agency partners including NASA, the US Geological Survey’s Landsat Project and the EU’S Copernicus project. Unlike Google Maps which is more focused on transportation and getting people around, Google Earth is geared towards geology and exploring how the Earth’s landscape has changed over time. The time-lapse feature spans seven decades and shows the effects of climate change and human contribution to the Earth – it’s consequences and achievements alike. From the sprawling city of Dubai to the melting of glaciers, the new feature aims to raise awareness about climate change and could even become a tool in classrooms for students to interact with. In a statement about the feature’s ability to capture the effects of climate and environmental change, Google stated that, “”We have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips – one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerisingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades.”[1]

The time-lapse feature is an impressive addition to Google’s renowned systems and houses a surprising amount of historical data. It comes at a time when climate change and environmental issues are starting to be taken more seriously and more companies veer towards a greener future.


British Airways to Introduce a Hybrid Working Model After Covid

The onset of COVID wreaked havoc on the tourism and leisure industry – in particular, the travel sector. Major airlines such as British Airways have seen at least 10,000 job cuts being made in an effort to shore up finances as a result of the economic downturn. One thing has come out of the pandemic, however, and that is the increased popularity of remote work.

British Airways, like many other companies, have created a hybrid working model during the pandemic so employees are split between the office and home. This model has proved successful for the airline, resulting in more talks about whether working remotely should become part of the company’s future. In March 2021, with more and more of its employees stating that they are happy working from home, BA decided to take the leap to fully embracing a hybrid working model after Covid subsides. As well as the benefits that remote work provides to employees, other incentives include the company being able to save money on less office space and contribute towards a greener future. However, the airline is still aware of the difficulties they might face in this move including how to shift operations in a short amount of time and provide employees with wellbeing programmes and outlets. Stuart Kennedy, BA’s director of people, commented on this need to rethink operations for a hybrid model stating that, “we’ll want to consider what the ideal office layout for the future will be. Perhaps it’s less fixed desks and more casual meeting areas, and we need to consider colleague wellbeing, too.” As well as this move to a hybrid model, the company is also considering whether to sell its Waterside HQ in Heathrow to save money. Since the hybrid model will eliminate the need for bigger office spaces, the move to scrap Waterside HQ could prove successful, saving money and being better for the environment. In a separate statement, Kennedy commented on the future aims of BA with remote working stating that, “Our aim is to find a hybrid working model that suits our business, blending the best of office and remote working for our people. We’ve also re-structured our business to emerge from the crisis and are considering whether we still have the need for such a large headquarters building.”

As more and more companies start to see the benefits of remote working, there is a chance that a hybrid model could become the new norm. It would afford companies the chance to cut down on office space and expenses, contribute to a greener future, and give employees more flexibility.

Denmark to Pioneer Offshore Energy Island

The Danish wind turbine industry is one of the world’s largest – accounting for up to 38% of the world’s market share. In June 2020, following more and more countries looking to build a greener future, Denmark revealed plans to build one of the world’s first offshore energy islands. Curious? We have researched what the island could look like, it’s global strategy, and potential location.

Backed by Denmark’s politicians, the energy island is expected to be 120,000sq m with room for 200 offshore wind turbines. As part of the country’s Climate Act, the island will serve around 3 million households with sustainable, renewable sources of energy. The move is radical but looks set to help Denmark on its mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in 2033 and its goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2050. Partly owned by the state and partly held by private investors, the island amounts to a whopping £24bn with added maintenance costs on a regular basis. It is for this reason, as well as the amount of infrastructure needed, that the island is only expected to be completed by 2033. The announcement has been heralded as positive news across the country with Denmark’s Energy Minister, Dan Jorgensen, hinting at the far-reaching effects the island will have on the wind turbine industry. “It’s the next big step for the Danish wind turbine industry. We were leading on land, then we took the step offshore and now we are taking the step with energy islands, so it’ll keep the Danish industry in a pioneering position.”[1] The island is to be built in the North Sea, approximately 80km from the town of Thorsminde. In close proximity to countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and England the energy island could not only provide renewable energy sources to Denmark but also to its neighbouring countries, thus providing good reason for its selected location. It is part of a much larger global strategy to help implement greener energy practices and Denmark seems to be one of the world’s leading pioneers.

However, though many are positive about the announcement, there is scepticism about the expected completion date. Dansk Energy, a famous green group in Denmark, heralded the move as a significant step towards a greener future but warned that 2033 was unlikely to be the completion date. Despite this, Danish politicians have given the project the go-ahead and the project is starting to become a reality.