The first flying car, first gene therapy for deafness, Male birth control pills & other surprising stuff you will see in 2020–2022 — The Adaptive Economy
A lot of conversations about the future are products of our imagination, however sometimes conversations can be based on facts. Here are the “upcoming facts”. There is an exciting economy being built silently by some amazing people worldwide. A lot of market opportunities, investment opportunities, and business opportunities are not in Fintech or Dog Walking apps, where common sense is. But these opportunities are there for you to seize if you do have a bit of foresight. I feel like we don’t talk enough about them and their exciting, surprising or game-changing news to come. Here are some…
Generation X is reshaping global politics:
As the new decade begins, a fresh generation of leaders and decision-makers is emerging on the world stage. With the last of the Silent Generation passing away, and Baby Boomers waning in their influence, the so-called “Generation X” is coming into power.
Born between the late 1960s and early 1980s, Gen-Xers are more heterogeneous than previous groups: diverse in race, class, culture and ethnicity. They are more liberal and progressive than their parents, with less respect for rules, authority and established policies. They are less likely to be religious. For most or all of their lives, they have grown up surrounded by computers — making them savvy and comfortable with technology, flexible and more open to new ideas. They have more concern for the environment, especially related to climate change, and are more accepting of science in general.
Angry at the social, political and economic legacy bequeathed to them, the Gen-Xers are beginning to use their newfound power to build a different kind of world. They are no longer willing to bow to the demands of the Baby Boomers, who many feels have robbed them of their future. They are also not willing to let the Millennials (Generation Y) get a free ride when it comes to paying their fair share.
From 2020 onwards, there is a shift of money and resources away from senior citizens and towards those in their middle years. Property and inheritance laws, pensions, retirement plans and a number of elderly benefits undergo significant changes, as Gen-Xers work to stem the gap between themselves and their parents. Employees gain more rights, freedoms and flexibility in the workplace, with offices becoming more casual and informal, alongside a further expansion of homeworking and the gig economy.
Thanks to the Gen-Xers, more and more countries begin to relax their laws on private recreational drug use, gay marriage, prostitution, euthanasia and so on. Good or bad, legalisation and taxation of cannabis add significantly to government revenues whilst helping to cut crime. Scientific research and environmental protection are given higher priorities while technology entrepreneurship is now supported by many grants. Some of these trends were emerging in any case, but are now being accelerated by the Gen-Xers.
Breast tomosynthesis is in widespread use
Breast tomosynthesis is a new 3-D scanning technology that detects 40 percent more breast cancers than traditional mammography, while also lowering the radiation dose. In 2015, researchers conducted the first large-scale study of this technique, to compare it with older screening methods. It was found to provide clearer and more accurate images, with X-rays from different angles showing multiple thin layers of breast, as opposed to single 2-D images. Furthermore, it was safer and more comfortable for women, with breast compression being halved.
As of 2015, breast cancer was the leading type of cancer in women, accounting for 25% of all cases globally. Survival rates had been increasing significantly in previous decades and during the 2020s, tomosynthesis is among the newly emerging techniques helping to continue this trend. During the first half of the 2020s it becomes routinely available in many countries, combined with AI/deep learning of image scans to further improve outcomes.
Gene therapy for deafness
As of 2015, hearing loss affected 1.1 billion people to some degree. It caused disability for up to 7.5% (540 million) and moderate to severe disability in 1.7% (about 124 million) of the world’s population. Noise exposure was known to cause approximately half of all cases, while the remaining factors included aging, genetics, perinatal problems and disease infections.
During the first half of the 2020s, advances are made in developing a gene therapy, with some of the first clinical trials in humans. This follows earlier experiments on mice, in which a mutation of the TMC1 gene was repaired. Scientists treated the animals by injecting an engineered virus called adeno-associated virus 1, or AAV1, combined with a promoter — switching on the gene in sensory hair cells within the cochlea.
Following successful human trials and approval from regulators, it becomes possible for patients affected by the TMC1 mutation to have their genomes sequenced and their hearing restored by gene therapy. However, while TMC1 was known to account for up to 8% of genetic deafness cases, more than 70 other genes were also implicated. It would therefore be a number of decades before the condition was fully understood and curable for all patients. Nevertheless, gene therapy sees major growth in research and development during the 2020s. Other treatment options besides gene therapy are also making breakthroughs at this time including stem cells and various new biotech implants.
The first stem cell therapy for congestive heart failure
In the early years of the 21st century, congestive heart failure (CHF) was the single biggest killer in the industrialised world, claiming more lives than all cancers combined. A chronic condition, it was characterised by an enlarged heart and insufficient blood flow to the organs and extremities of the body. About 5.1 million adults were affected in the U.S. during 2010 with 825,000 new cases annually and 50% of patients dying within five years of diagnosis. The only available options for end-stage or class IV heart failure were a heart transplant, or mechanical support using a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). Due to a shortfall of donors, transplants were often unable to meet demand, while permanent LVAD support was limited by clinical complications and high costs.
However, a number of new treatment options were emerging, as a revolution in healthcare began to take shape. Between 2013 and 2020, the global market for regenerative medicine grew from $16 billion to $67 billion, more than quadrupling in size. Among the most notable discoveries were the use of stem cells to repair and replace damaged tissues. One such breakthrough involved the use of Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs) — rare cells found in blood vessels. Proof of concept was demonstrated in rodent models of heart disease, then larger animals, followed by Phase 3 human trials in 2014.
Researchers found an optimal dose range of 150 million MPCs. A single injection — requiring no conventional surgery — was shown to release a cocktail of trophic factors inducing new blood vessel formation, heart muscle regeneration, anti-inflammatory properties and reduced scarring. Major improvements in heart function were observed, enabling patients to lead relatively normal lives once again. By 2020, it is commercially available — adding many years to the lifespans of people who would otherwise have died within a short time.
Various other treatments are emerging this decade, contributing to a substantial fall in cardiovascular disease. Deaths from these conditions have been largely eliminated in rich countries by the early 2040s.
First orbital test flight of the SpaceX Starship
As early as 2005, aerospace company SpaceX had used the codename, “BFR”, for a conceptual heavy-lift vehicle, far larger than the Falcon family of vehicles and carrying a payload of 100 tons (220,000 lb). In 2018, after a number of design iterations, the concept was renamed “Starship”, and the first stage booster was named Super Heavy.
The Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket (collectively referred to as Starship) would represent a fully reusable transportation system, intended to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit — but also potentially more distant locations, such as the Moon and Mars. The rocket, featuring 37 raptor engines, would hold sub-cooled liquid methane and liquid oxygen (CH4/LOX) propellants, with six landing legs for returning to the launch site. Together, the Starship and Super Heavy stood taller than any previous launch vehicle, their combined height of 118 m surpassing even the Saturn V (110 m) and dwarfing the Falcon Heavy (70 m) developed some years earlier by SpaceX.
For missions beyond Earth orbit, the Starship craft would be refilled with propellant in orbit, via a tanker vehicle. SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, stated that his long-term goal was to colonise Mars and deliver a million inhabitants to its surface within 50 years.
In late 2018, initial construction of two high-altitude prototype ships began, referred to as Mk1 and Mk2. Additionally, SpaceX conducted a static fire test of a smaller, height-reduced “Starhopper” prototype, which successfully ignited the engine while the vehicle remained tethered to the ground. A maiden flight test of the Starhopper in July 2019 attained a height of 18 m (59 ft). This was followed in August 2019 by a second untethered test flight that reached a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) altitude of 150 m (490 ft).
However, a setback occurred in November 2019 when the full-size Mk1 blew its top off during a tank pressure test. SpaceX announced the retirement of the Mk1 and Mk2 prototypes after the incident and stated their intention to focus on Mk3 and Mk4 designs, which were closer to the flight specifications.
Musk planned to build and launch Starship systems from two locations: Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Boca Chica, Texas. During a presentation, he stated that both sites would enable many Starships to be built in the future, with potentially hundreds of launches per year, and that SpaceX was improving the design and manufacturing methods exponentially. Following the Starhopper and other test vehicles, a new tank dome was incorporated to avoid pressure failures in subsequent versions. Amid much fanfare, a first flight of the Starship into Earth orbit occurs during 2020.
Glacier National Park and other regions are becoming ice-free
In 2020, the Glacier National Park in Montana is becoming ice-free, the park’s namesakes disappearing as a result of global warming. An earlier model (below) had forecast this event for 2030, based on a study by the US Geological Survey, along with 1992 temperature
Many cold water dependent plants and animals subsequently die out, due to loss of habitat, including a number of rare species. Reduced seasonal melting of ice also affects stream flow during the dry summer and fall seasons, reducing water table levels and increasing the number of forest fires. This has the added effect of putting more carbon into the atmosphere. The loss of glaciers also reduces the aesthetic visual appeal of the region for visiting tourists.
This process is mirrored all over the world during the 21st century, with non-polar ice beginning to vanish from a number of scenic regions — including the Andes, Alps, Himalayas and Kilimanjaro.
Mercury pollution has been greatly reduced
Mercury — also known as quicksilver — is a heavy and silvery element, and the only metal to exist in a liquid state at room temperature. It is used primarily for the manufacture of industrial chemicals, electronic applications, thermometers and in gaseous form to create fluorescent lamps.
If inhaled or absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic. They have a range of devastating health impacts, including brain and neurological damage (especially among the young), birth deformities, kidney damage and digestive system problems. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well-documented effects.
In the early 21st century, the largest emissions of mercury came from gold mining. Combustion of fossil fuels — mainly coal in utility, industrial and residential boilers — was the next biggest source. An estimated 1,960 tons were produced each year, with China by far the greatest contributor at nearly one-third of the global total. Improper disposal of certain products like batteries, automobile parts and fluorescent bulbs also led to mercury entering the environment. About 30% of the total amount of mercury entering Earth’s atmosphere each year came from anthropogenic (man-made) sources.
Though primarily an issue in developing countries, mercury was recognised as a global problem. In the space of just 100 years, man-made emissions doubled the concentration in the top 100 metres of the planet’s oceans. Food chains were disrupted, with fish and shellfish absorbing small amounts of mercury, posing a health issue the world over. This was a particular concern for pregnant women and those with young children.
In 2013, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established a global, legally binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases of mercury. Governments agreed on a wide range of mercury-containing products whose production, export and import would be banned by 2020. Detailed plans were enacted to cut levels of mercury used in mining operations, coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, smelters, waste incineration and cement clinker facilities. Public awareness campaigns, medical programs and support for mercury-free alternatives were also developed. Though not yet completely eliminated, this has led to a major reduction in mercury pollution and its gradual phasing out by many countries.
Internet use reaches 5 billion worldwide
At the start of the 21st century, the number of web users worldwide stood at roughly 300 million, or about 5% of the global population. Connections were slow and tended to have speeds of only 56 kbit/s. Mobile access to the Internet was largely non-existent, with only a handful of companies offering this service for portable devices.
However, thanks to a combination of plummeting costs and exponential technology improvements, Internet access grew rapidly in subsequent years and had reached over a billion people by December 2005. This trend continued into the 2010s. In September 2014, a significant landmark was reached as the global average connection speed reportedly hit 4.6 Mbit/s — exceeding the minimum 4 Mbit/s threshold to meet the “broadband” criteria.
By the late 2010s, more than half of the world’s population were Internet users, with four billion people having access. Most of the recent growth had come from China, India and other emerging economies.
Web-connected mobile devices were now ubiquitous, while data transfer speeds continued to increase. From 2019 onwards the next cellular wireless standard, known as 5G, offered gigabit speeds and many other features.
More than five billion people — a nearly 20-fold increase compared to January 2000— are Internet users by the end of 2020.
Exascale computers are deployed
An exaFLOP is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a million trillion, or one quintillion) floating point operations per second. The world’s top supercomputers are now reaching this speed, which is a 1,000-fold improvement over a petaFLOP machine.
The growth of computing power had followed an exponential trend for many years. However, a slowdown in the rate of progress was observed during the second half of the 2010s. It had earlier been predicted that exaFLOP machines would arrive by the end of the decade, but this schedule appeared to slip as technical and funding issues were encountered.
IBM unveiled “Summit” — featuring a peak performance of 200 petaFLOPS — which became the world’s fastest supercomputer in June 2018, a title it would retain into 2019 and 2020. Several challengers were waiting in the wings, including three exaFLOP machines being developed by China, three by the USA and others by the European Union, India, Japan and Taiwan. These would be deployed during the early and mid-2020s.
China was the first country to achieve a “peak” exaFLOP machine, but there were ongoing delays in reaching a sustained exaFLOP performance. By 2021, this is finally demonstrated, using processors designed and manufactured domestically. Among the new machines is Tianhe-3, successor to the Tianhe-2. After China, the next countries to demonstrate a sustained exaFLOP performance are the United States and Japan.
Exascale computing leads to revolutionary advances in a number of fields — allowing simulations of greater scale, complexity and duration than ever before. Neuroscience is one area of particular note, as it becomes possible to simulate the entire human brain in real-time, down to the level of individual neurons. Subsequent upgrades to existing machines, along with entirely new machines, enable further orders of magnitude gains in performance and pave the way to zettaFLOP supercomputers in the 2030s.
The ExoMars rover touches down on Mars
ExoMars is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Divided into two parts, the first phase of the mission was launched in 2016, arriving nine months later. This consisted of an orbiter — ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter — for mapping sources of methane and other gases on Mars, to determine the best location for a rover to study. It also contained a static demonstration module to prove the landing site was viable.
The second phase is launched in 2020, arriving in 2021 with the ExoMars rover built by ESA. This lands on Mars using a “sky crane” system, in which four rockets slow the descent once the main parachute has been deployed. The landing site is near the equator to maximise available solar power.
The rover’s primary objective is to determine any signs of microbial life on Mars, past or present. It is equipped with a drill that bores down two metres below the surface to retrieve samples. These are transferred to a miniature laboratory inside the rover. This contains a sensor for biological molecules, infrared and X-ray spectroscopes that catalogue the mineralogical makeup of the sample, together with imaging devices.
Located in the drill structure is another infrared spectrometer that studies the inside surface of the bore hole. ExoMars uses ground-penetrating radar to search for ideal locations at which to drill. The mission is almost entirely automated, as the rover uses imaging cameras to create a 3D map of the terrain in order to avoid obstacles. It has a lifespan of six months, travelling approximately 100 metres each day and testing dozens of different samples.
The spacecraft was scheduled to launch in 2018 and land on Mars in early 2019, but due to delays in European and Russian industrial activities and deliveries of the scientific payload, it was moved to the launch window in July 2020. With a journey time of nine months, it arrives in March 2021.
China’s first mission to Mars
During the first two decades of the 21st century, China’s National Space Administration had focused heavily on the Moon. Its Chang’e series of lunar probes achieved great success.
China began a Mars program in 2009 in partnership with Russia. However, the Russian spacecraft Fobos-Grunt, carrying a Chinese orbiter called Yinghuo-1, crashed in January 2012, days after lift-off. China subsequently began its own independent Mars project, with a mission approved by authorities in 2016.
The new Chinese Mars probe would consist of an orbiter, lander and a rover deployed on the surface of Mars, with scientific objectives being to search for evidence of both current and past life, and to assess the planet’s environment. It was named Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover mission, designated by a shorter name of Huoxing-1, abbreviated to HX-1 (Huoxing simply means “Mars” in Chinese).
The spacecraft is launched aboard a Long March 5 heavy lift rocket in July 2020, with a total payload mass of 5,000 kg (11,000 lb). Orbital insertion at Mars is scheduled for February 2021, with a surface landing date of 23rd April 2021. The lander carrying the rover is designed to use a parachute, retrorockets, and an airbag to achieve a soft landing, which is planned to occur in Utopia Planitia — a region known to contain a large amount of underground water ice.
The rover is powered by solar panels, and is fitted with Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), to scan as deep as 100 m (330 ft) below the surface. It can also perform chemical analyses on Martian soil, and look for biomolecules and biosignatures. The six-wheeled, 200 kg vehicle is designed to last three months.
The orbiter and rover together carry a total of 12 instruments. In addition to its powerful ground radar, the rover includes a Multi-Spectrum Camera (MSC) and a Navigation and Topography Camera (NTC). The orbiter, meanwhile, is equipped with a High Resolution Camera (HRC) to obtain images with a resolution down to just 2 m from a 400 km orbit. The surface rover includes a demonstration of technology needed for a Mars sample return mission proposed for the 2030s.
First flight of the Blue Origin’s New Glenn reusable rocket
New Glenn (named after the late U.S. astronaut, John Glenn) is a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle developed by Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. The booster stage is designed to be reusable, cutting launch costs and making it a competitor to SpaceX.
Previously, Blue Origin had developed the New Shepard — a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL), crew-capable rocket. Prototype testing in 2006, followed by full-scale engine development in the early 2010s, led to a first flight in 2015. Reaching an altitude of 93 km (58 miles), this uncrewed demonstration was deemed partially successful, as the onboard capsule was recovered via parachute landing, while the booster stage crashed, and was not recovered. By 2019, a further 11 test flights had taken place, all successfully landing and recovering the booster stage.
The New Shepard, with a height of 18 m (59 ft) and only a tiny payload, fell into the sub-orbital class of rockets. By contrast, its successor would be more than five times as tall on the launch platform. New Glenn, standing 95 m (313 ft), dwarfed the earlier New Shepard and was designed to carry 45,000 kg (99,000 lb) to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 13,000 kg (29,000 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).
Blue Origin began working on the New Glenn in 2012, and publicly revealed its design and specifications in 2016. The vehicle, described as a two-stage rocket with a diameter of 7 m (23 ft), would be powered by seven BE-4 engines (equivalent to 21 Boeing 747s). Bezos now reportedly sold $1 billion worth of Amazon.com stock annually — a figure that doubled by the end of the decade — in order to fund Blue Origin.
By 2019, Blue Origin had gained five customers for New Glenn flights, including a multi-launch contract with Telesat for its broadband constellation. All of these launches would feature a reusable first stage, meaning the booster would return to Earth and land vertically, just like the New Shepard sub-orbital launch vehicle that preceded it.
A first launch of the New Glenn occurs in 2021, from a reconstructed and improved Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) in Florida. Following stage separation, the first stage flies back to Earth and lands nearly 1,000 km downrange on a moving ship. The second stage engines ignite and the 7-metre fairing separates. The mission is complete when the payload is delivered safely to orbit.
Alongside the New Glenn, Jeff Bezos had even greater ambitions. In 2019, he unveiled Blue Origin’s longer-term vision for space, which included a lunar lander known as Blue Moon. This could deliver up to 4,500 kg (9,900 lb) to the Moon’s surface and potentially astronauts too, using a New Glenn as the launch vehicle — in combination with ascent and transfer stages developed by other companies.
Water crisis in southwest USA
Southwestern parts of the USA — including Nevada, Arizona and southern California — are now faced with crippling water shortages. Lake Mead, a key source of water for over 25 million people (about 8% of the US population), is running dry as a result of climate change. Increased population growth and associated demand for water resources have also played a part. Once the largest reservoir in the country, its capacity has declined substantially, due to the Colorado River’s net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year. As well as providing fresh water, Lake Mead has been a major source of hydroelectric power, via the Hoover Dam. Blackouts are now increasingly common. Authorities have been attempting to stabilise the situation by constructing solar power facilities, as well as laying groundwater pipelines from elsewhere in Nevada.
Male birth control pills are entering the market
Early in this decade, the first male birth control pills are available for mass consumption. Methods of chemical male birth control had been around for a few decades. Early efforts focused on using testosterone and synthetic hormones to limit sperm production, in a similar way to female birth control’s effect on egg production. However, these proved to have too many negative side effects and were subsequently abandoned.
Other, non-hormonal methods were tried. Among the most successful was a compound known as JQ1, developed by US researchers in 2012. This worked by targeting a testis-specific protein called BRDT that is essential for fertility. When mice were given the BRDT-inhibiting molecule, they began producing fewer sperm and those they did produce were unable to swim properly. Mating studies confirmed that JQ1 indeed worked as an effective male contraception. Even better, the effects were completely reversible, without adverse consequences for the animals’ testosterone levels or behaviour. The molecule also left no apparent side effects on the males’ future offspring.
The success of this new compound and the strong similarity between mouse and human BRDT proteins allowed JQ1 to proceed to clinical trials, beginning in 2013. Following an eight year period, it is available in pill form by 2021. This becomes the first new reversible contraceptive for men since the development of the condom, centuries ago.
The world’s first artificial kidney for commercial use
Kidneys perform a vital role in the human body: filtering blood, removing excess fluid and eliminating waste products. They are essential to the urinary system, the regulation of blood pressure (via salt and water balance) and the production of various hormones.
Kidney diseases are diverse, but their primary causes over the long-term are diabetes and high blood pressure. Among the most serious clinical conditions is end-stage renal disease (ESRD), affecting 2 million people worldwide. This can lead to complete failure of the kidneys to work at a level needed for day-to-day life. In the later stages of the illness, the only treatment options are dialysis or transplant. Although dialysis can be life-saving, it lasts for only a short time and then the procedure must be repeated. Organ transplants can help patients to regain their strength and mobility, allowing a return to more normal activities; but there is often a shortage of donors, plus the risk of rejection by their immune system. Stem cell treatments are beginning to emerge, but have yet to include a complete replacement for kidneys.
A third option has been explored, however, which is now becoming available for the first time: fully artificial kidneys. This idea was researched at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), leading to a prototype model in 2010 and clinical trials beginning in 2017. As part of a government innovation program, the development process for this particular project was accelerated, cutting the time required for approval.
Using nanotechnology, the device can mimic almost all the vital functions of the kidney, while a bioreactor performs other renal activities. This is done without the need for pumps or electrical power — filtration is pushed along by the body’s own blood pressure. Furthermore, the device has an indefinite lifespan, unlike real transplanted kidneys which typically last for 10 to 12 years.
Launch of the Terrafugia TF-X flying car
The Terrafugia TF-X is a plug-in hybrid tilt-rotor vehicle and the first fully autonomous flying car. It can avoid other air traffic, bad weather and restricted air space and navigate its way to pre-specified landing zones. Manual controls and overrides also exist in case of emergencies or unexpected situations. The TF-X has a range of 500 miles per flight and batteries are rechargeable by the engine. Launched in 2021, it has a starting price of about $280,000 putting it beyond the reach of most consumers. However, cheaper flying and hovering vehicles become more widely available later this century and into the 22nd century.
India becomes the most populous country on Earth
India is now overtaking China to become the most populous country on the planet, with over 1.4 billion people. The gap between these two countries will begin to widen as China peaks and declines, while India continues to soar ahead. An earlier estimate by the UN had forecast India to reach this point by 2030. However, its population was subsequently found to be growing faster than expected. By 2040, its economy is rivalling both China and the USA with its population maintaining growth until the 2060s. A major driver of India’s prosperity is the rapid expansion of its energy sector. Huge rural areas undergo electrification with solar playing a key role— now cheaper and more efficient than ever before and even challenging the dominance of coal.With its plentiful sunlight, India is geographically well placed to capture this energy source and 100GW are installed by 2022.
The ITER fusion reactor is switched on in France
Human-engineered fusion was already demonstrated on a small scale. The problem has been finding ways of scaling it up to commercial levels in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.
ITER — previously known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — aims to be the first project to achieve this. Built in southern France at a cost of €20 billion, it has taken over a decade to construct and is among the largest scientific projects ever undertaken, second only to the International Space Station. This joint research experiment is funded by the US, EU, Japan, Russia, China, India and South Korea.
To demonstrate net fusion power on a large scale, the reactor must simulate the conditions at the Sun’s core. For this, it uses a magnetic confinement device called a tokamak. This doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber generates a powerful magnetic field that prevents heat from touching the reactor’s walls. Tiny quantities of fuel are injected into and trapped within the chamber. Here they are heated to 100 million degrees, forming a plasma. At such high temperatures, the light atomic nuclei of hydrogen become fused together, creating heavier forms of hydrogen such as deuterium and tritium. This releases neutrons and a huge amount of energy.
Following its operational activation in 2022, it is hoped that ITER will eventually produce over 500 megawatts of power, in bursts of 400 seconds or more. This compares with 16 MW for the Joint European Torus (JET) in 1997, the previous world record peak fusion power, which lasted only a few seconds.
ITER will require many more years before its reactor has been sufficiently perfected. To generate the sort of continuous levels of power required for commercial operation, it will need a way of holding the plasma in place at the critical densities and temperatures. This will need refinements in the design of the chamber, such as better superconducting magnets and advances in vacuum systems.
However, it could ultimately lead to a revolution in energy. If this project were to succeed, humanity would gain a virtually unlimited supply of clean, green electricity.
China’s first space station is complete
China’s efforts to develop low Earth orbit (LEO) space station capabilities began with a space laboratory phase, consisting of three “Tiangong” space modules launched in 2011, 2013 and 2015, respectively. These were small and experimental modules intended to demonstrate the rendezvous and docking capabilities needed for a much larger space station complex. They were designed for short stays with crews of three.
The larger, modular space station begins to take shape in 2020, using the previous separate components which are arranged as a Core Cabin Module (CCM), Laboratory Cabin Module I (LCM-1) and Module II (LCM-2), a “Shenzhou” crewed vessel and a cargo craft for transporting supplies and lab facilities.
The multiphase construction program is completed by 2022. The complex weighs approximately 60,000 kilograms (130,000 lb) and will support three astronauts for long-term habitation. It has a design lifetime of ten years.
Water is becoming a weapon of war
A combination of rapid population growth, lack of fresh water, social tension and weak government has led to significant regional instability in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Worsening climate change is producing longer droughts and more severe flooding, with tensions erupting in shared water basins.
Upstream countries are now using their greater resources for economic and political leverage over their downstream neighbours. At the same time, reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants are being targeted by terrorists and rogue states. Public fear of these attacks is forcing governments to take costly measures to protect their infrastructure.
Some particular flashpoints include the Nile in Egypt, Sudan and nations further south; the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq and the greater Middle East; the Mekong in China and Southeast Asia; the Jordan River that separates Israel and the Palestinian territories from Jordan; the Indus and the Brahmaputra in India and South Asia, as well as the Amu Darya in Central Asia.
Recent advances in desalination have made it easier to filter seawater. However, these methods are often patented and guarded by Western corporations. Just as food demands were taken advantage of in previous decades, the emerging water crisis is now being used as a means of exploitation and blackmail.
Global reserves of antimony & other rare metals are running out
Antimony is a rare metalloid, used mainly as alloying material for lead and tin in products such as lead acid batteries, solders and bullets. It also functions in microelectronic products and in credit cards, as an additive for fireproofing, and in some pharmaceuticals. It is found naturally in the form of the sulfide mineral stibnite and was primarily produced in China, South Africa, Bolivia, Russia and Tajikistan.
Exploited by man for millennia, global reserves are finally beginning to run out during the early 2020s. Since it now holds the bulk of the dwindling supply, China has been subject to controversies over trade. In an effort to control environmental issues and resolve safety problems, many of the country’s mines and smelters were shut down in the previous decade. The local Government in Lengshuijiang, Hunan Province — accounting for 60% of world reserves — shuttered nearly all of its mines and smelters, sending the price of antimony soaring.
This pattern will play out again for other minerals in the decades to come. From this point on, business and industry are forced to rely on recycling of older products and/or shift to replacement materials.
For antimony chemicals in paint, pigments and enamels, the substitutes can include compounds of chromium, tin, titanium, zinc and zirconium. Combinations of cadmium, calcium, copper, selenium, strontium, sulfur and tin can be used as substitutes for hardening lead. Selected organic compounds and hydrated aluminum oxide are widely accepted substitutes as flame retardants. However, many of these other substances will themselves face shortages in the years to come. Results are more investments in the nascent space mining industry and rise of stock prices of SpaceX, Blue Origin & other.
Driverless hover-taxis are operational in Dubai
In 2022, a driverless flying taxi service becomes fully operational in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This follows testing that began in late 2017 and ran for five years. The Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT), as it is known, is supplied by Volocopter — a Germany-based specialist manufacturer — working with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority.
The first service of its kind in the world, the AAT is a two-seater aerial vehicle resembling a cross between a helicopter and large drone. It has 18 rotors and fully redundant power trains, with an intelligent autonomous control system able to transport people without human intervention or a pilot. It can travel at speeds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph) using clean electricity and a battery quick-charge and plug-in system, while also featuring low noise levels.
The AAT service is made available to the public through a smart mobility app. This allows customers to book flights, receive booking reference details and track the route of their vehicle. The AAT is part of an increasing trend for automated transport in Dubai — more than a quarter of all passenger vehicles in the city are self-driving by 2030.
Mars sample return mission
The Mars sample return mission — considered the “holy grail” of robotic space missions — is by far the costliest and most complex exploration of Mars ever conceived. Due to financial problems with both NASA and ESA, the project was almost scrapped. Following an outcry from the scientific community, however, it eventually went ahead.
With a launch window of 2018, returning five years later, the mission consists of an Earth/Mars transfer stage, Mars orbiter, descent module, collection mechanism, ascent module and Earth re-entry stage. Around 30 samples, totalling 500 grams of rock and soil, are deposited into the ascension vehicle, which then launches and exits the Martian atmosphere, before making the return trip back to Earth.
Once they are recovered, the samples are placed in a “curation” facility to isolate them and prevent contamination. Advanced instruments are then used to analyse the rock and soil, at a level of detail that was unavailable with previous surface rovers and their relatively limited tools. The samples hold tremendous scientific value, providing decades of research into the Martian environment, and conclude as a major milestone in the exploration of Mars.
Stay tuned for the Adaptive Economy:
This is just a glimpse of some of the things you will learn in The Adaptive Economy — Chapter 3. The eBook will be released end of next week, you can pre-order it here: https://www.theatlascapital.com/the-adaptive-economy
Next week blog post inspired from “The Future In Minutes”&“Future Time”: With the next few years, upcoming 3D printed clothes at near-zero cost, first commercial neural implant to restore memories & mouse revival from cryopreservation: From 2023 onwards, things start to get a bit wild, so stay tuned for the next article “2023–2025” coming next.