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Workforce training app developer Poka adds strategic investor Schneider Electric

Poka, a workforce training app and software service for industrial companies, has added SE Ventures, the venture capital arm of the European energy and automation conglomerate Schneider Electric to its roster of backers.

The company has raised over $23 million in funding so far for its application and software services package that provides training and tips for workers on the factory floor.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its global marketing through new distribution strategies and speed up its product development.

Since 2014, Poka has been selling its services to companies including Bosch, Danone, Mars, The Kraft Heinz Company, Johnson & Johnson and Stanley Black and Decker, the company said.

Previous backers of the Quebec City, Canada -based company include Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Groupe Leclerc, and CDPQ, according to the company.

For Poka, demand is driven by the combination of increasing automation and an aging workforce creating a skills gap in industrial facilities.

Poka was designed specifically to address the challenges and needs of large global manufacturers — many of whom are clients of Schneider Electric,” said Poka chief executive Alex Leclerc in a statement. “Our partnership gives us global reach within our target markets and provides value to our joint customers by offering them a more complete path to digital transformation.”

For SE Ventures general partner Grant Allen, the replacement of aging technologies around communication and knowledge-sharing in manufacturing facilities represented an obvious investment opportunity. “The tools and systems used to communicate, capture and share knowledge in commercial production facilities are largely outdated, leaving workers without the necessary information to be effective and safe,” said Allen.

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China set to launch Mars probe and rover mission in July

China’s space program will launch a Mars mission in July, according to its current plans. This will include deploying an orbital probe to study the red planet, and a robotic, remotely-controlled rover for surface exploration. The U.S. has also been planning another robotic rover mission for Mars, and it’s set to take off this summer, too – peak time for an optimal transit from Earth to Mars thanks to their relative orbits around the Sun.

This will be the first rover mission to Mars for China’s space program, and is one of the many ways that it’s aiming to better compete with NASA’s space exploration efforts. NASA has flown four previous Mars rover missions, and its fifth, with an updated rover called ‘Perseverance,’ is set to take place this years with a goal of making a rendezvous with Mars sometime in February 2021.

NASA’s mission also includes an ambitious rock sample return plan, which will include the first powered spacecraft launch from the red planet to bring that back. The U.S. space agency is also sending the first atmospheric aerial vehicle to Mars on this mission, a helicopter drone that will be used for short flights to collect additional data from above the planet’s surface.

China has a number of plans to expand its space exploration efforts, including development and launch of an orbital research platform, its own space station above Earth, by 2022. The nation’s space program also recently test-launched a new crew spacecraft, which will eventually be used in its mission to land Chinese astronauts on the surface of the Moon.

Meanwhile, NASA has issued a new set of draft rules that it is proposing for continued international cooperation in space, particularly as they related to reaching the Moon and setting up a more permanent human presence on Earth’s natural satellite. The agency is also hoping to return human space launch capabilities to the U.S. this week with a first demonstration launch of astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on Wednesday.

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Xplore teams up with Nanoracks for commercial deep space exploration

Mostly when we talk about commercial space, and space startups, the focus is relatively close to home – stretching to orbit, and maybe the Moon. But Seattle-based startup Xplore wants to extend the privatization of space further still, through the development of spacecraft and a platform designed for commercial missions to the Moon, Mars, Venus, extra-orbital asteroids and beyond.

Xplore is building spacecraft capable of carrying small payloads (between roughly 70-150 lbs) to deep space destinations. These could include sensors including optical cameras, tools for measuring temperature and other space weather conditions, hyperspectral imaging tools, or even others, smaller spacecraft on behalf of a range of commercial clients. The company began operations in 2017, co-founded by Lisa Rich and Jeff Rich (who also founded and manage VC firm Hemisphere Ventures) and plans to fly its first spacecraft, destined for the Moon, beginning in 2021.

Nanoracks is a commercial space company with an established history of developing and deploying commercial spacecraft, including small satellites launched from the International Space Station (ISS), with payloads from customers including the European Space Agency, NASA, the German Space Agency and many more. In 2016, Nanoracks opened the first commercial testing platform, installed on the outside of the ISS to allow private companies to run experiments in microgravity and in space-based radiation exposure. More recently, it announced that it would be launching technology to demonstrate in-space structural metal cutting for the first time – tech that could one day open up big opportunities in re-using discarded spacecraft for in-space reuse and manufacturing.

Xplore’s spacecraft can hold multiple payloads, and Nanoracks will be able to use their experience to help prepare and integrate the cargo of Xplore’s clients, making it possible to launch more rapidly and more efficiently with less lead time required.

Xplore also plans to fly Earth orbital missions, focusing on rapid response capabilities and handling everything for customers in terms of mission parameters, spacecraft and operations – everything beyond the payload design, basically. With more launch providers and capacity coming online, there’s definitely a growing need for mission logistics and payload launch services – and extra-orbital destinations make Xplore’s an interesting offering that could pave the way for different kinds of businesses and commercial research.

Source: TechCrunch