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Firefly Aerospace Has Won A Second NASA Contract To Deliver Lunar Pathfinder To The Moon

Firefly Aerospace has won a second NASA contract to take hardware to the Moon – including the hotly anticipated Lunar Pathfinder satellite that will serve as a communication relay between future Lunarians and Earthlings.

The award, worth just under $112 million, will see Firefly deliver the Lunar Pathfinder into the Moon’s orbit, as well as dropping a couple of experiments off on the far side of the Moon, when it launches in 2026.

Firefly’s contribution to the mission will be “end to end,” Firefly said, and will involve the outfit’s Blue Ghost spacecraft in a two-stage configuration that will launch the Lunar Pathfinder and then send a lander to the surface of the Moon to deliver its experimental payload.

The first of those experiments, the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night), will make radio observations to take a look at the period in universal history known as the “dark ages,” a period that began around 370,000 years after the Big Bang and lasted until the first stars formed.

The far side of the Moon is ideal for making such radio observations, NASA said, because the Moon blocks radio noise from Earth. NASA said LuSEE-Night will make its observations during the 14-day long lunar night.

Because LuSEE is going to take up residence on the far side of the Moon, it’ll need to be able to communicate with Lunar Pathfinder in order to send and receive commands, which is where the second part of the experiment comes in: the User Terminal, or UT.

The UT, which consists of a software-defined radio, antenna, network switch and sample data source, “will institute a new standard for S-Band Proximity-1 space communication protocol and establish space heritage,” NASA said. The UT will be used to commission Lunar Pathfinder to ensure it’s able to communicate with Earth when LuSEE-Night is gathering data.

Firefly was previously awarded a $93.3 million NASA contract in 2021 to deliver a payload of 10 scientific experiments to the Moon’s surface. That mission was originally scheduled for 2023, but Firefly’s website now indicates that mission will take place in 2024.

Shiny – but how we gonna get there?

It’s not immediately clear how Firefly plans to get it second payload to the Moon. The first will be getting there by hitching a ride on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, but when the contract was announced in 2021 Firefly had yet to get one of its own rockets into orbit.

Firefly’s “economical small satellite launch” Alpha rocket has since successfully reached space, where it delivered several satellites to low-Earth orbit last October. The company is also working on a larger medium-lift vehicle that’s scheduled to launch for the first time in 2025.

So far, government-designed rockets have been necessary to get spacecraft and humans to the Moon, and the only commercial project attempting to reach that far into space is Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its yet-to-reach-orbit Starship.

Musk claimed last month that Starship’s first orbital launch attempt could come as soon as this month, but in classic Musk style, time is running out for SpaceX to meet that goal. The company is planning a mission to the Moon’s orbit and back for later this year that will be crewed by a Japanese billionaire and a “crew of artists, content creators, and athletes from all around the world,” because science is for nerds.

We asked Firefly how it plans to launch its second Moon mission and it told us that because of the size of the two-stage Blue Ghost spacecraft, it would be collaborating with “another launch partner for this lunar mission.”

It said the specific launch vehicle hadn’t been finalized yet, although it said that in future lunar missions, the Blue Ghost lander could be launched via Firefly’s new Medium Launch Vehicle, which is being co-developed with Northrop Grumman.

The aerospace company added that global events including the Ukrainian war had an impact on its original mission schedule, and that it had been “no longer able to import engines from its planned supplier”, but said the team overcame this problem by switching main engine suppliers and developing its own reaction control system thrusters.

Manufacturing many “key Blue Ghost components in house” worked out for the engineers, who said they were “confident in the 2024 timeline for Blue Ghost Mission 1” after building their own core avionics, batteries and thrusters as well as the primary structure.


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Folkestone dubbed the new Whitstable after undergoing a dramatic transformation

Every year around this time we hear of plans to regenerate run-down seaside towns and dreary resorts, from Margate to Morecambe. 

Yet none could match the dramatic transformation of Folkestone on Kent’s south coast.

Just ten years ago, Folkestone was on the slide. ‘I moved here in 2015 from Gran Canaria to work in a hotel and parts of the town, notably the harbour area, were scary — so I moved on to Canterbury,’ says Alex Rodriguez, 31, now a freelancer working in corporate communications.

Turning the tide: The Kent seaside town’s once off-limits harbour is now an enticing location

Turning the tide: The Kent seaside town’s once off-limits harbour is now an enticing location

‘Then I heard about the changes going on, so in 2020 I moved back here with my husband and picked up a three-bedroom Victorian end-terrace house for £240,000. 

I have never regretted it — Folkestone nowadays has a really cool vibe and beautiful scenery.’

It is difficult to imagine the Folkestone that Alex found back in 2015. Much of the harbour and seafront was occupied by railway sidings, a squalid fairground and a flea market. The Old Town area was, to put it bluntly, a slum.

It took the ambition of Sir Roger De Haan to create the Folkestone of today. He bought the town’s harbour in 2004 with a view to regenerating it.

‘My parents started [travel company] Saga and when I sold the company in 2004 [for £1.35 billion] I was still only in my late 50s and I needed to carry on working,’ Sir Roger told me. ‘I decided on four strands of regeneration: education, buildings, the arts and sport.’

These areas were in desperate need of attention. Folkestone had one of the five least academically successful secondary schools in England. 

With an investment of £34 million, Sir Roger had architect Norman Foster design a replacement and it is now judged ‘good’ by Ofsted. 

Sir Roger also helped set up performance venues and ploughed money into a variety of sports facilities.

But the flagship of the new-look Folkestone is a development of 84 apartments on the sea-front. Set on shingle at the top of the beach, it is built of glistening white, glazed bricks. 

Broad balconies give the exterior a Gaudi-esque look, while inside the curvature of the tall windows means rooms are bathed in light. Materials of wood and pebble echo the seaside theme.

Prices range from £430,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £2.2 million for a penthouse. Six more blocks are planned, totalling 1,000 units (shorelinefolkestone.co.uk).

Nearby is the restored Harbour Arm, with its champagne bar, food stalls. Stroll south along the seafront and you pass brightly painted beach huts and a landscaped coastal path.

The revamped Old High Street is now bursting with independent shops and studios — not unlike popular and chi-chi Whitstable on the north Kent coast.

‘It has a really cosmopolitan atmosphere,’ says Alex. ‘There are lots of freelancers and we meet in a coffee shop twice a week, which gives a real sense of community.’

There’s a lot to attract newcomers, with London’s St Pancras just an hour away. So, with so many seaside towns looking to re-invent themselves, what’s the secret of a successful regeneration?

‘In areas where the economy is broken, it is not enough to just fix the buildings,’ said Sir Roger. ‘You have to give the town a whole new economic purpose … there must be one over-arching grand ambition.’

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Majority of Businesses (82%) Set to Boost R&D Funding in the Next Three Years

Businesses And R&D Funding

More than 78% of R&D professionals believe that an enhanced 50% R&D tax credit will incentivise green tech development

A recent report by the Industry Research and Development Group (IRDG) and KPMG sheds light on the state of Research and Development (R&D), highlighting the urgent need for increased funding to keep pace with other leading innovation-driven nations. Titled ‘Ireland’s Innovation Index,’ the report presents insights gathered from a survey of 394 respondents representing various sectors, including engineering, technology, medical, and software.

Growing Ambitions for R&D Investment

The findings of the report reveal that a significant majority (80%) of respondents plan to boost their R&D expenditure in the next three years, while 67% have already increased their R&D budgets over the past three years. Encouragingly, only a mere 4% anticipate a decrease in future R&D spending. This heightened commitment to R&D investment underscores its critical role in driving economic growth and competitiveness.

R&D Landscape

Ireland has demonstrated commendable performance in the realm of R&D, with a substantial proportion (69%) of multinational companies considering Irish R&D grants and tax supports on par with or even superior to those offered by other countries. Only 31% expressed a less favorable opinion. Moreover, 64% of the survey respondents have taken advantage of the Research and Development Tax Credit (RDTC), while 53% have availed themselves of semi-state grant supports. These figures indicate the value that companies place on government incentives to support their innovation endeavors.

The Need for Increased Funding

Despite the positive strides made, the report highlights the pressing need for Ireland to bolster its R&D funding to match the levels seen in leading innovation-driven nations. According to the IRDG, an additional €2 billion in funding is required to bridge this gap effectively.

Embracing Sustainability and Digitalization

The report also emphasizes the potential of enhanced R&D funding in promoting green tech development. An overwhelming 78% of R&D professionals believe that an improved 50% R&D tax credit would serve as a powerful incentive to drive innovation in sustainable technologies. This highlights the need to align R&D investment with the challenges of sustainability and digitalization, ensuring continued economic prosperity and positioning Ireland as a global leader in these areas.

The Importance of Support for SMEs and FDI

Dermot Casey, CEO at IRDG, underscores the significance of increased investment in innovation, particularly in supporting innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to create the next generation of Irish success stories, akin to industry leaders like Kingspan and Fexco. Additionally, such investment is crucial to bolster the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector. Businesses are poised to invest, but they require robust support to overcome challenges related to accessing skills, talent, and administrative burdens.

Competition in the Global Landscape

Ken Hardy, head of KPMG’s R&D incentives practice, draws attention to the intense competition among European jurisdictions, including neighboring countries like the UK, which are actively vying to attract R&D activities. In light of this landscape, Ireland must fortify its support systems and allocate a more substantial budget to maintain its competitiveness. Hardy commends the positive sentiment among over two-thirds of Irish RD&I professionals who view Ireland’s support systems as comparable to those of other countries.

Charting the Path Forward

The report underscores the urgent need for Ireland to bolster its investment in R&D, both to stimulate innovation and to address the challenges presented by sustainability and digitalization.

By increasing funding and providing comprehensive support to innovative companies, Ireland can seize opportunities for economic growth and maintain its position as a global hub for research and development. The collective efforts of industry, government, and academia will be instrumental in driving Ireland’s innovation agenda and securing a prosperous future.


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Ways Small & Medium-Sized Businesses Can Hire Big Tech Talent

In response to mounting financial concerns, tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) have recently implemented significant staff cuts. This has prompted industry leaders to reevaluate their hiring practices, recognizing the limitations of Big Tech’s ability to weather challenging economic times.

While the tech industry’s overall stability is assured, the combination of a declining economy and a previous surge in hiring has resulted in substantial job losses. However, this situation also presents an opportunity for small businesses and start-ups to tap into a pool of available tech experts.

To capitalize on this unique scenario, small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners must act swiftly to gain a competitive advantage over larger companies and attract highly skilled candidates.

In this article, John Elf, Technology Contributor at ‘Voice of EU’ and Head of Marketing at Vibertron Technologies, provides insights into some simple but effective strategies for attracting talent in a candidate-heavy market.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can leverage consulting services to attract the best talent, just like big tech companies do. Here’s how SMBs can make use of consulting services to enhance their talent acquisition efforts:

1. Talent Acquisition Strategy Development: SMBs can engage consulting firms specializing in talent acquisition and HR strategies to help them develop a comprehensive talent acquisition strategy. These consultants can assess the organization’s needs, identify talent gaps, and devise effective recruitment and sourcing strategies tailored to the SMB’s specific industry and requirements. This strategic approach ensures that the SMB is targeting the right candidates and maximizing its resources.

2. Employer Branding and Positioning: Consulting firms experienced in employer branding can assist SMBs in developing a strong employer brand that resonates with their target talent pool. They can help SMBs articulate their unique value proposition, culture, and growth opportunities, ensuring that the organization stands out as an attractive employer. These consultants can also provide guidance on how to effectively communicate the employer brand across various channels to attract the best talent.

3. Recruitment Process Optimization: Recruitment service provider can help SMBs, same as LCEs, optimize their recruitment processes, making them more efficient and effective. Consultants can review and streamline the entire hiring process, from job postings and candidate screening to interview techniques and selection methodologies. By improving the candidate experience and ensuring a smooth and timely process, SMBs can enhance their reputation as an employer of choice.

4. Candidate Sourcing and Evaluation: Consulting firms specializing in talent acquisition can assist SMBs in sourcing and evaluating candidates. They can leverage their networks and resources to identify top talent and conduct thorough assessments, including skill evaluations, cultural fit analysis, and background checks. By leveraging external expertise, SMBs can access a broader candidate pool and make well-informed hiring decisions.

5. Compensation and Benefits Consulting: Attracting and retaining top talent often requires competitive compensation and benefits packages. SMBs can engage consulting firms that specialize in compensation and benefits to ensure their offerings align with industry standards and meet the expectations of high-caliber candidates. These consultants can provide insights into market trends, salary benchmarks, and innovative benefit options, enabling SMBs to remain competitive in talent acquisition.

6. Training and Development Programs: SMBs can leverage consulting services to design and implement training and development programs. These programs not only help attract talent but also contribute to employee retention and growth.

Consultants can identify skill gaps, design customized training modules, and provide guidance on employee development initiatives, ensuring that SMBs create a culture of continuous learning and professional advancement.

By utilizing consulting services in talent acquisition, SMBs can access specialized expertise, best practices, and industry insights that are typically associated with larger companies. This approach enables SMBs to compete for top talent on a more level playing field, enhancing their ability to attract and retain the best candidates.


By John Elf

John Elf is Head of Marketing at Vibertron Technologies, and an Honorary Contributor at ‘Voice of EU’. A version of this article has already been published.


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