A new generation of London Underground trains enters service during 2022,* remaining in operation for 40 years.* The aging Tube network had been underinvested for decades – resulting in ever-worsening delays, overcrowding and safety issues. In the early 21st century, however, a massive programme of upgrades and modernisation was initiated. This included a £16bn ($26bn) project announced by Transport for London in October 2014, intended to fundamentally overhaul its rolling stock.
Credit: Transport for London/PriestmanGoode
These futuristic new carriages were designed to accommodate the city's rapidly increasing population (forecast to grow by 37% to 11 million by 2050),* address safety concerns, improve usability for the disabled and offer a more pleasant overall experience for travellers. Step-free trains and wider doors would enable those in wheelchairs to have seamless access from platform to carriage, while door barriers placed on the edge (already introduced on the Jubilee Line) could prevent suicides or accidents.
With trains designed to be more spacious and easier to board – in combination with modern signalling and control systems – a faster, more frequent and more reliable service could be provided. The Piccadilly line, for example, serving many of London's top tourist attractions, would have its capacity boosted by 60%, equivalent to an extra 19,000 customers per hour.
In the past, summer temperatures and humidity on some lines were known to reach levels unsuitable for cattle transport.* All of these new carriages now featured air conditioning, for vastly improved comfort. In addition, hi-tech electronic displays could provide real-time information, while better lighting created a "living room" feel.
The New Tube is first introduced on the Piccadilly line in 2022, followed by the Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo & City lines. Self-driving trains are deployed from 2030.* These had already been present on some parts of the network, such as the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in the Canary Wharf financial district. As they become widespread on the main Tube lines as well, these automated systems bring to an end the notorious union strikes which had caused severe disruption in earlier decades.
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 experimental fusion reactor is switched on
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*
Solar grid parity has been reached in almost 10% of the United States
Grid parity is defined as the point at which renewable energy is equal to, or cheaper than, utility grid electricity – without government subsidies. In the case of solar, although a number of factors are involved, countries with more sunshine tend to achieve this landmark sooner.* In the US, regions such as California and Hawaii were among the first states to reach grid parity.
From 2010 onwards there was explosive growth of installed solar capacity both in the US* and around the world. Dramatic falls in cost, faster production through automation, new materials and efficiency improvements, concerns over global warming, new financing models and the increasingly competitive market with China and other countries, all helped in boosting the deployment of solar.
The bankruptcy of Solyndra (awarded hundreds of millions of dollars through a federal loan guarantee program) received much coverage in the US media. However, this was less a failure of the industry and more due to the success of competition in driving down prices. Solyndra's panels were made from copper indium gallium selenide – nonsilicon technology. Although this was expensive, it was competitive in 2008 when silicon prices were high. When the cost of silicon fell, so did the price of silicon panels, making Solyndra's technology obsolete.*
The growth trend for solar would continue throughout the 2010s and into the following decade, with prices plummeting still further.* Traditional utility companies were beginning to face enormous competition from inexpensive rooftop solar power, even in northern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.*
By 2022, almost 10% of the US has reached solar grid parity.* This is helping to mitigate some of the economic damage caused by rising oil prices. By 2030, a nationwide "smart grid" has been established across the country, able to intelligently manage and distribute solar energy to precisely where it is most required.* By the 2040s, even solar from space is commercially feasible* and by mid-century, solar dominates the global energy supply.*
phases out nuclear energy
Fukushima disaster in Japan, a number of countries began to reconsider
their use of nuclear power. Germany was among the nations to abandon
this form of energy altogether. Its government had originally planned
to keep plants running until 2036, but this schedule was brought forward.
Seven plants which had been temporarily shut down for testing in 2011,
and an eighth taken offline for technical problems, would remain closed
permanently. The remaining nine plants would be shut down by 2022.
this phasing out, nuclear power in Germany had produced a quarter
of the country's electricity and the industry employed some 30,000 people.
The shortfall would be made up by renewables, a temporary increase in coal use* and the cutting of electricity usage by 10 percent through more efficient
machinery and buildings.*
nuclear plants in 2011, showing the zones of radiation in a potential
worst-case scenario, as happened with Fukushima. According to this map,
large areas of north and south Germany would be made uninhabitable if
all plants were to meltdown.
Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics
The 2022 Winter Olympics take place from 4th February to 20th February 2022, in Beijing, China. The elected host city was announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in July 2015.* Beijing, along with Almaty in Kazakhstan, had been considered an outsider before the bidding process began. However, many European cities later withdrew for political or financial reasons. Beijing eventually beat Almaty by 44 votes to 40 with a single abstention. It becomes the first city to host both a summer and winter Games, having hosted the summer games in 2008. It is the third consecutive Olympic Games to be held in Asia, following Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020. In addition to Beijing itself there is another city, Zhangjiakou – located 118 miles to the north-west, which hosts the snow events. As with Beijing's previous games, there are protesters concerned with the country's human rights record.
hosts the FIFA World Cup
a tiny Persian Gulf nation of just 1.7 million people. It has the second
highest GDP per capita in the world, owing to its massive natural gas
deposits. It becomes the first country in the Middle East to host the
in Qatar can reach 50°C. However, each stadium employs state-of-the-art
cooling technology, capable of reducing temperatures by over 20 degrees
celsius. The upper tiers can be disassembled after the tournament and
donated to countries with less developed sports infrastructure.
the stadia includes a 420,000 sq ft media facade, covering almost the
whole exterior. This futuristic screen displays news, adverts, tournament
information and live matches to viewers outside.*
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.*
Credit: Chinese Society of Astronautics
European Extremely Large Telescope is operational
revolutionary new telescope is built in Cerro Armazones, Chile, by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental research organisation supported by fifteen countries. It has the aim of observing the
universe in greater detail than even the Hubble Space Telescope.
of 39 metres (129 ft) will be powerful enough to study the atmospheres
of extrasolar planets. It will also perform "stellar archaeology"
– measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies, as well
as probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
Originally planned for 2018,* the observatory is delayed until 2022 due to financial problems.* The mirror is also reduced in size slightly, having previously been 42m.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope begins full operations
Joining the European Extremely Large Telescope this year is another observatory, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), beginning full operations for a ten-year study.* This wide-field "survey" reflecting telescope is located on the 2,715 m (8,907 ft) Cerro Pachón, a mountain in northern Chile.
The LSST design is unique among large telescopes in having a very wide field of view: 3.5 degrees in diameter or 9.6 square degrees. For comparison, both the Sun and Moon, as seen from the Earth, are 0.5 degrees across or 0.2 square degrees. Combined with its large aperture, this provides it with a spectacularly large collecting power of 319 m²degree². In other words, vast amounts of data can be obtained simultaneously over huge areas of sky.
The observatory has a 3.2 gigapixel camera, taking 200,000 pictures (1.28 petabytes uncompressed) per year, far more than can be reviewed by humans. Managing and effectively data mining this enormous output is among the most technically difficult parts of the project, requiring 100 teraflops of computing power and 15 petabytes of storage. The main scientific goals of the LSST include:
Measuring weak gravitational lensing in the deep sky to detect signatures of dark energy and dark matter;
Mapping small objects in the Solar System, particularly near-Earth asteroids and Kuiper belt objects;
Detecting transient optical events such as novae and supernovae;
Mapping the Milky Way.
Data from the telescope (up to 30 terabytes per night) is made available by Google as an up-to-date interactive night-sky map.
In 2022, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launches an unmanned spacecraft to Mars, with the intention of obtaining a sample from one of its two tiny moons. The $241 million probe lands on the low-gravity surface, gathering rocks and dust, before taking off and returning its cargo to Earth for detailed scientific analysis. This mission is the first ever craft to land on either Phobos or Deimos and return samples. It provides evidence to help explain the origins of the Martian moons, while also yielding information that is useful in the planning of future manned missions.*
Click to enlarge
The relative sizes of and distance between Mars, Phobos, and Deimos, to scale
New Horizons completes its study of the Kuiper Belt
In 2015, after a nine year journey across 3 billion km of space, the New Horizons probe arrived at Pluto. It surveyed this region for several months, returning a treasure trove of data and imagery from this previously unexplored world and its five moons. NASA intended to go even further, however, with plans for a close flyby of a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO)* measuring 30–45 km (19–28 mi) in size. This phase of the mission would start in 2019 at a distance of 43.4 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. By 2022, the KBO study is complete,* and New Horizons is heading towards the outermost reaches of the Solar System. By 2038, it will be 100 AU from the Sun.*
The AIDA mission arrives at Didymos
The Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) is a joint NASA/ESA mission to study an Apollo asteroid – Didymos – and its small moon.* It is the first spacecraft to target an asteroid known to have a moon (243 Ida was visited by Galileo, but its moon was a surprise). The Apollo asteroids are a group of near-Earth asteroids that orbit within about 1 AU of the Sun.
The objectives of AIDA are:
• to study and demonstrate the kinetic effects of crashing an impactor into an asteroid moon.
• to test whether a spacecraft could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
• to gain new insights into the relationship between an asteroid's surface and its interior.
• to gain new understanding of how asteroids and binary asteroids form.
The mission consists of two spacecraft: AIM, which orbits the asteroid; and DART, which is deliberately crashed into its moon. The primary asteroid is about 800 m (2,600 ft) in diameter; its small satellite is about 150 m (490 ft) in diameter and orbits about 1.1 km from the primary. Didymos is not an Earth-crossing asteroid, and there is no possibility that the deflection experiment could create an impact hazard.
The DART spacecraft weighs 300 kg (660 lb) and impacts at 6.25 km/s, producing a velocity change on the order of 0.4 mm per second, which leads to a significant change in the mutual orbit of these two objects, but only a minimal change in the heliocentric orbit of the system. AIDA provides data on the asteroid's surface characteristics and internal structure, as well as the resulting impact crater and orbital/rotation changes. AIM is equipped with both a navigation camera and a thermal infrared imager, along with a radar, while DART has a 20-cm aperture CCD camera to autonomously guide itself to the target site. In addition to AIM and DART, three cubesats are deployed to assist with observations and to test new science and technology capabilities, such as intersatellite communication links in deep space. The mission is launched in October 2020, arriving at Didymos in May 2022.*
Didymos made a close approach to Earth in 2003, at a distance of 7.18 million km (4.46 million miles). It makes another close approach in 2123, at a distance of 5.9 million km (3.66 million miles). It also passes close to Mars: 4.69 million km (2.91 million miles) in 2144.
Click to enlarge
The Dark Ages Radio Explorer (DARE) is launched
The Dark Ages Radio Explorer (DARE) is a NASA spacecraft designed to investigate the early universe, between 80 million and 420 million years after the Big Bang. The observatory is placed in a lunar orbit, using the Moon's shadow to hide from the Sun's light and Earth's radio interference. DARE is 25 feet (7.5 metres) across when its antennae are fully extended. The craft's highly sensitive instruments can be used to measure redshifted emanations from primeval hydrogen atoms – revealing the moment when the first stars began to emit light.
In its early stages, the universe was opaque or "foggy". Light existed, but invisible to modern telescopes. When photons were released (or decoupled), the universe became transparent. At this point, the only radiation emitted was the 21 cm spin line of neutral hydrogen. DARE uses this precisely redshifted 21 cm transition line from neutral hydrogen (40-120 MHz) to identify and view these first illuminations. This faint radiation is an even more powerful tool than the cosmic microwave background (CMB) for studying the early universe, giving a whole new perspective that earlier astronomy was unable to provide.*
In addition, DARE returns data on the earliest black hole accretions, the reionization of the universe, ancient galaxy formations and dark matter decay. The craft is operational from 2022.*
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 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. Some developing nations are even being sued for attempting to develop cheaper versions for themselves.
Global reserves of antimony 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.*
clothes are growing rapidly in use
Fabrics that incorporate nanotech are becoming fairly commonplace. This includes truly waterproof garments, which are now a popular choice for consumers. These are made from polyester fibres
coated with millions of silicone filaments, structured in such
a way that water simply falls off, leaving no dampness whatsoever.* Nanotech
is also being used by the military, police, firefighters and other specialist personnel to improve the resilience and flexibility of suits, protective gear and other equipment. Some uniforms can repel chemical and biological agents using nanotech.*
Credit: University of Zurich/Wiley Vch
Poland begins exporting the PL-01 stealth tank
The PL-01, developed in a collaboration between Polish companies and British conglomerate BAE Systems, is a "stealth tank" featuring a thermal camouflage system. This renders the vehicle invisible to enemy infrared vision and works by using an array of hexagonal Peltier plates on the surface, which are heated and cooled to project a desired image, such as the background or a separate object.
The tank weighs 35 tonnes, measures 7 metres x 3.8 metres (23 ft x 12.5 ft) and carries a crew of three. It is designed to be light, fast and manoeuvrable, serving in a combat support role. A panoramic observation system enables 360° continuous views. This unmanned turret has an auto-loading, 120 mm calibre smoothbore cannon. Full-scale production begins in 2018, with exports commencing from 2022.*
Collision of two stars in the binary system KIC 9832227
A rare astronomical event – the collision of two binary stars – occurs this year, becoming visible in the night sky as a so-called "red nova". It is located in system KIC 9832227, in the constellation of Cygnus, about 1,800 light-years away. The orbits of these two stars had been studied for a number of years and the period of their variations was found to be growing shorter from 2013 onward. The period continued to get smaller at an ever-increasing rate, leading to the eventual merger of the cores.* This releases a huge amount of energy, increasing the brightness of the system 10 thousandfold and remaining visible to the naked eye for six months. Astronomers use this rare opportunity to study and learn more about the physical mechanism driving such stellar mergers.*
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.*