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2028 timeline contents




Launch of the European ATHENA X-ray observatory

The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA) is a major new X-ray telescope launched by the European Space Agency.** This L-class (Large) project is the second of three missions in the "Cosmic Vision" programme which includes two other spacecraft – the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) launched in 2022 and a gravitational wave observatory being deployed in 2034.

X-ray observations are crucial for understanding the structure and evolution of stars, galaxies and the Universe as a whole. These images can reveal "hot spots" in the Universe – regions where particles have been energised or raised to very high temperatures by strong magnetic fields, violent explosions, and intense gravitational forces. X-ray sources are also associated with the different phases of stellar evolution such as supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes.

ATHENA is designed to answer a number of important questions in astrophysics:

• What happens close to a black hole?
• How did supermassive black holes grow?
• How do large-scale structures (i.e. galaxy clusters and superclusters) form?
• What is the connection between these processes?

To address these questions, it can trace orbits close to the event horizon of black holes, measure black hole spin for several hundred active galactic nuclei (AGN), use spectroscopy to characterise the outflows and environments of AGN at their peak activity, look for supermassive black holes out to redshift z = 10, map the bulk motions and turbulence in galaxy clusters, find missing baryons in the cosmic web using background quasars, and observe the process of cosmic feedback where black holes inject energy on galactic and intergalactic scales.

This enables astronomers to understand better the history and evolution of matter and energy – visible and dark – as well as their interplay during the formation of the largest structures in the Universe. Closer to home, observations constrain the equation of state in neutron stars, black hole spin demographics, when and how elements were created and dispersed into the intergalactic medium, and much more.

To achieve these goals, ATHENA requires a collecting area of 3 square metres with 5 arcsec angular resolution and 12 metre focal length, for unmatched sensitivities. Relative to previous X-ray missions, it offers a 100-fold increase in the area for high resolution spectroscopy, deep spectral and microsecond spectroscopic timing with high count rate capability. It also features a large shield that blocks light from the Sun, Earth and Moon, which otherwise would heat up the telescope and interfere with observations. The telescope remains operational until the late 2030s.


2028 athena x ray telescope



China builds the world's largest particle accelerator

Following the success of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe,* the Chinese decided to build their own larger particle accelerator. Researchers at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing announced plans for a machine 52 km (32.5 mi) in length – twice the circumference of the LHC. This would allow the Higgs boson to be studied in greater detail, revealing new insights into the fundamental structure of matter and confirming whether multiple types of Higgs boson existed. Construction began in 2019, with completion in 2028.* It paves the way for an even larger project in 2035.**


future particle accelerators timeline china



The International Space Station is decommissioned

The International Space Station was constructed from 1998 to 2014. Its operational lifetime was originally planned to be until 2020, but with extra funding was extended to 2028. This date was chosen to mark the 30th anniversary of the first Russian component to be launched. Like its predecessor – Space Station Mir – it is ditched in the Pacific Ocean. Some modules of the Russian Orbital Segment are salvaged before the de-orbiting takes place. These are used as the basis for a new station, known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex.*


2028 technology



Printed electronics are ubiquitous

The printed electronics market has seen exponential growth. By now, it has ballooned to over $300 bn globally.* This technology began with a small number of niche, high-end products. It expanded rapidly in the 2010s, thanks to plummeting costs and improved production methods. By the 2020s it had exploded into the mainstream – creating a new generation of ultra-thin electronics.

Today, these have such low fabrication costs that they are ubiquitous in countless everyday business and consumer applications.* Many previously bulky or heavy devices can now be folded, stored or carried as easily as sheets of paper. This includes flexible TV displays that can be rolled or hung like posters. Also widespread are electronic newspapers with moving pictures, "smart" packaging and labels with animated text, along with signage in retail outlets that can be updated shop-wide at the touch of a button.*

Multimedia players with expandable, fold-out touchscreens are especially popular. Even low-end models are now the size and weight of credit cards and can easily fit inside a wallet. With petabytes of storage, gigapixels of screen resolution and superfast transfer speeds, they are orders of magnitude more powerful than iPods of the previous decade. They are also completely wireless – no cables or physical connections of any kind are required, with music being enjoyed using wireless earphones.


2028 technology printed electronics 2020 2020s 2025 2030 future
Credit: University of Cincinnati



The UK population reaches 70 million

Britain will soon become the most populous country in Europe, overtaking both Germany and France. This is mainly due to vast numbers of immigrants. Combined with a shrinking labour force, this is putting a huge strain on public services – especially in London, which has born the brunt of the increase.

future global population 2000 2050
Source: Office for National Statistics



Manned fighter planes are being phased out and replaced with UAVs

By this date, the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been replaced completely by the F-35 Lightning II – which itself becomes one of the last remaining manned fighter planes in the US military. The F-35 will remain in operation until the 2040s, eventually being replaced by a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) controlled by advanced AI.


x-47a x47 x47a uav unmanned aerial vehicle ai



Amputees can regrow lost limbs

Drugs are becoming available that can stimulate human cells to regrow limbs.* By switching off a specific gene known as P21, adult mammalian cells can be induced to behave like regenerative embryonic stem cells.* Treatments are applied transiently during the healing process and only locally at the wound site, minimising any side effects.


amputees humans regrow limbs p21 stem cells future medicine 2020 2030



Resurrection of several extinct species has been achieved

In 2009, the Pyrenean Ibex became the first animal to ever be made "un-extinct", for seven minutes, when a cloned female was born alive before dying from lung defects.* This was eventually followed by a woolly mammoth, using tissue samples from ancient permafrost.* By the late 2020s,* a number of other species have been resurrected (with varying degrees of success) including the famous dodo – last observed in 1662 – and the wild pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, which went from being one of the world's most common birds during the 19th century, to extinction in the early 20th.

Three different approaches have been taken to restore lost animals and plants:

  • Cloning, in which genetic material is extracted from preserved tissue to create an exact modern copy.

  • Selective breeding, where a closely-related modern species is given characteristics of the extinct relative.

  • Genetic engineering, where DNA of a modern species is edited until it closely matches the extinct species.

Ethical and legal issues are now emerging, however, such as the effect of these "alien" species on modern ecosystems and the possibility of diseases. With genetics advancing at such a rapid rate, even hominids like neanderthals could potentially be brought back. Further into the future, de-extinction of lost species will become a vital part of restoring the Earth's biosphere, as a global rewilding effort takes shape.


dodo resurrection future



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1 ESA's new vision to study the invisible universe, ESA:
Accessed 28th November 2013.

2 European Space Agency sets a path for big space science, BBC:
Accessed 28th November 2013.

3 See 2015.

4 China is set to build a particle collider twice the circumference of the LHC, Geek:
Accessed 27th July 2014.

5 At this stage, the 2035 plans are unclear, so both are included in the image (China's version and the VLHC). See Nature link below for more details.

6 China plans super collider, Nature:
Accessed 27th July 2014.

7 International Space Station, Wikipedia:
Accessed 20th May 2011.

8 Can the 'silver bullet' of printing revolutionize electronics?, CNN:
Accessed 16th December 2009.

9 "Expect that the first-generation foldable e-devices will be monochrome. Color will come later. Eventually, within 10 to 20 years, e-Devices with magazine-quality color, viewable in bright sunlight but requiring low power will come to market."
See UC Research Brings Us Step Closer to Rollable, Foldable e-Devices, University of Cincinnati:
Accessed 10th August 2013.

10 Microsoft Retail Future Vision, Intentional Futures:
Accessed 10th August 2013.

11 "We may be only a decade or two away from a day when we can regenerate human body parts."
See Scientists Develop Powder to Regrow Limbs, Finding Dulcinea:
Accessed 17th March 2010.

12 Humans could regrow body parts like some amphibians, The Daily Telegraph:
Accessed 17th March 2010.

13 Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning, The Telegraph:
Accessed 9th April 2013.

14 Extinct animals we could - and should - clone tomorrow, io9:
Accessed 25th October 2014.

15 "...within 15 years they will be able to revive some more recently extinct species, such as the dodo or the passenger pigeon."
See Stanford's Hank Greely presents the ethics of resurrecting extinct species, Stanford University:
Accessed 9th April 2013.




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