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2021

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.*

 

exomars rover 2021 future timeline technology
Credit: ESA

 

 

The James Webb Space Telescope is launched

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the long-awaited successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope. Named after James E. Webb – the NASA administrator from 1961 to 1968 – it is developed as a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The JWST is located near Earth–Sun Lagrangian point L2 with an orbital distance that varies from 374,000 km (232,000 mi) to as far away as 1,500,000 km (930,000 mi). It is designed to offer unprecedented resolution and sensitivity from long-wavelength visible light through the mid-infrared range. While the Hubble Space Telescope had a 4.5 m2 (48 sq ft) primary mirror, the JWST's collecting area is nearly six times larger at 25 m2 (270 sq ft). This is composed of 18 hexagonal mirror segments working in unison. In terms of magnification, it is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, making it capable of seeing the very first generation of stars that ignited less than 200 million years after the Big Bang – a time when the universe was only 1.4% of its current age. If a bumblebee was placed on the Moon's surface, the JWST would be able to spot the insect both in reflected light, and from its body heat.* A large sunshield keeps the telescope's instruments below 50 K (−220 °C; −370 °F).

The JWST has four main scientific goals:

• To search for light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe after the Big Bang
• To study the formation and evolution of galaxies
• To understand the formation of stars and planetary systems
• To study planetary systems and the origins of life

The JWST was first proposed in 1996, at which time its cost was estimated at $0.5 billion, with a launch date of 2007. Over the years, however, the costs began to spiral upwards and the schedule faced major delays. By 2018, the project had mushroomed to $9.7 billion, with a launch date of March 2021.*

 

james webb space telescope future timeline 2019
Credit: NASA

 

 

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.

 

lake mead bathtub ring hoover dam future 2020
Lake Mead as seen from the Hoover Dam, clearly showing the "bathtub ring". Credit: Cmpxchg8b

 

 

The world's largest insect swarm re-emerges

Brood X is the largest of 15 groups of 17-year cicadas. Its members, all of the genus Magicicada, tunnel to the surface en masse, mate and lay eggs, then die. This is the biggest swarm of insects in the world. The area covered stretches from New York, down the East Coast to Georgia and west to Illinois.

The last time Brood X emerged was in 2004.* Countless billions of the insects infest the Eastern USA, with any existing tranquillity ruined by their incessant buzzing during the mating ritual, which is audible from a mile away. Despite the nuisance it causes, the emergence of this swarm is relatively short-lived. It also delivers vital nutrients to the topsoil, leaving the native environment noticeably better in the weeks after the ensuing die-off.

 

brood x cicada map 2004 2021 2038

 

 

Five-year survival rates for breast cancer are approaching 100%

Worldwide, breast cancer accounts for nearly 23% of all cancers in women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). In 2008, it caused 458,000 deaths, 13.7% of cancer deaths in women. It is over 100 times more common in women than in men, although men tend to have poorer outcomes due to delays in diagnosis.

In 2011, advances in genetics led researchers to identify 10 subtypes of breast cancer, each with its own unique genetic fingerprint.* In that same year, three genes linked to the most common form of breast cancer were found, including one responsible for driving the growth of tumours.*

Combined with personalised genomics, this paved the way for a new generation of drugs and other treatments that were precisely customisable for a particular individual. In many Western countries, five-year survival rates are now approaching 100%,** with 10-year survival likely to meet this level in the mid-2030s.*

 

breast cancer five year survival rate

 

 

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.

 

male birth control pill release date 2020 2021 2022 future

 

 

The world's first artificial kidney

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 programme, 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.*

 

 

 

The first Arabian mission to Mars

This year sees the first mission to Mars by an Arabian country – in this case, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which sends an unmanned probe. The Arab League nations have established a pan-Arab space agency by now, headed by the UAE. This functions in a similar way to the European Space Agency.

The UAE had already invested more than 20 billion dirham (US$5.4 billion) in the space sector by 2014. This further expansion was aimed at diversifying its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons and fostering new talent in technology and aerospace fields. It was also motivated by concerns over national security and the growing importance of satellite data, mobile communications, Earth mapping and observation. Thanks to its hi-tech facilities, Dubai is now a regional hub for satellite design and construction.* The Mars mission coincides with the 50th anniversary of the UAE's formation. It is helped by the fact that space projects are becoming increasingly cheap, easy and reliable, through a new generation of rockets and fuels.

In 2014, ruler of the UAE's emirate of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said the mission would prove the Arab world was still capable of delivering scientific contributions to humanity, despite the many conflicts across the Middle East: "Our region is a region of civilization. Our destiny is – once again – to explore, to create, to build and to civilize."*

 

united arab emirates mars 2021 future timeline space

 

 

The maiden flight of Ariane 6

The Ariane family of rockets has been operational since 1979, taking hundreds of satellites into orbit, along with famous telescopes and probes. They are manufactured under the authority of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

For many years, Ariane 5 had been Europe's flagship launch vehicle. Some of its payloads had included the Herschel Space Observatory (the largest infrared telescope ever launched), Planck observatory, Rosetta probe and the Automated Transfer Vehicle for resupplying the International Space Station.

Although highly reliable, this large rocket had become expensive to operate by the 2010s, with support costs of €120 million euros ($154 million) per year. At the same time, a number of entrepreneurs were presenting serious competition in the satellite market.* In order to address these concerns, a new generation of Ariane rockets would need to be devised.

Ariane 5 would be followed by Ariane 5 ME (Mid-life Evolution) in 2017. This would feature a new upper stage, with increased propellant volume, powered by the Vinci expander cycle engine. Able to restart up to five times, allowing for more complex missions – such as direct insertion to geostationary orbit – it would also include a longer payload fairing to accommodate larger satellites.

Ariane 5 ME would then be followed by Ariane 6 – a simpler, cheaper and more flexible launcher, with smaller payloads of between three and 6.5 tonnes, but incorporating the Vinci restartable upper-stage of the 5 ME. Production and operation costs would be €70 million euros ($89 million) per launch, around half that of Ariane 5. The basic design for Ariane 6 was agreed upon in July 2013* and the maiden flight occurs in 2021.* It remains in operation until the 2030s.

 

ariane6 2020 2021 2022
Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

 

 

India's first manned space flight

India becomes only the fourth nation – after Russia, the US and China – to independently launch humans into space. The rocket used is a variant of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).* This carries a largely autonomous 3.7-ton capsule with a three-person crew on board. They remain in orbit around the Earth at 248 miles (400 km) altitude for seven days, before splashing down in the Bay of Bengal. The total cost of the project is about 124 billion rupees ($2.67 billion). Originally planned for 2016, the mission faced delays, but is eventually launched in 2021.* Subsequent versions of the craft enable longer missions, including rendezvous and docking capabilities with space stations and other orbital platforms.*

 

rocket launches future timeline
India GSLV image credit: WDGraham

 

 

A rapidly changing workforce

In order to cut real estate costs, become more eco-friendly, and attract the growing number of people seeking work-life balance, most companies by now have adopted a "work wherever you want, whenever you want" policy. An increasingly global talent pool is emerging, with firms aggressively pursuing the best available workers – regardless of where they reside. Recruitment has shifted away from traditional print adverts and online jobs boards, focussing instead on social networking sites.

Rising travel costs have also encouraged these trends. Many employees now work a four-day week, consisting of four 10-hour days, while telecommuting and teleconferencing have been further boosted by the growth of superfast broadband. This combination of technology and work options is leading to improved speed, productivity and efficiency in companies around the world.

 

 

 

Wireless electricity is reaching critical mass

Most of the latest electric/electronic devices now have antennas in place of batteries, drawing power from a single node mounted in the ceiling of a room. This eliminates the need for multiple wall sockets and bulky cables, greatly reducing clutter in homes and workplaces. It also allows for lighter and more compact handheld devices than ever before.

A magnetic coil is housed in a small box, which can be set into a wall or ceiling. Powered by mains, this resonates at a specific frequency. Electromagnetic waves are transmitted through the air, which are received by a second magnetic coil, fitted in the laptop/TV or other appliance. This resonates at the same frequency as the first coil and absorbs energy, charging the product.*

Wireless electricity development began with small, short-range devices like phone charger pads and electric toothbrush holders. Improving efficiency made it possible to beam power over distances of several metres. Gradually, it was incorporated into larger and more energy-hungry products – such as televisions, computers and even vehicles. A universal standard was also adopted, ensuring compatibility and expanding its mass market appeal significantly. By the early 2020s, the industry is generating over $15 billion in worldwide annual revenue and the system is fairly commonplace in homes and offices.** Laptop users in cafes, airport terminals and other public areas can now utilise "Wi-Tricity" hotspots. This does for battery life what Wi-Fi did for the Internet. Electric vehicle (EV) charging has been another successful growth area. EV drivers can charge by simply parking over a disk placed on the floor or embedded in the pavement.

These networks are completely safe to humans, with no possibility of being electrocuted by the invisible beams. Eventually, power lines begin to disappear from streets, electricity instead being passed wirelessly and unobtrusively from building to building. The first "wireless cities" emerge, with less visual clutter allowing for better urban design and aesthetics. Further into the future, this trend expands to encompass the entire world.

 

wireless electricity witricity 2020 2021 technology

 

 

Traditional microchips are reaching the limits of miniaturisation

Semiconductor manufacturers are reaching the limits of miniaturisation for traditional silicon computer chips. The smallest of these transistors are now being fabricated with a 5-nanometre (nm) process. This is close to the size of individual atoms. Silicon is impossible to scale below this size, due to the effects of quantum tunnelling. Moore's Law, the trend which sees computer power double every 18 months, has entered a new paradigm shift, with traditional microchips now being abandoned in favour of graphene, "stacked" 3-dimensional circuits and other novel concepts.*

 

chip miniaturisation limits 2021 2020s transistor

 

 

Completion of the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge

China has now completed the second of two megabridges across the Pearl River Delta – one of the most densely urbanised regions in the world and a major hub of the nation's economic growth. The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge is a 55 km (34 mi) series of bridges and tunnels, first proposed in the early 1980s, with construction beginning in 2009 and finishing in 2018.* Costing over US$20 billion, it slashes journey times between Hong Kong and Zhuhai or Macau from 4.5 hours (by road) to just 40 minutes. The eastern end of the route lies in close proximity to Hong Kong International Airport.

Further to the north – and constructed from 2015 to 2021 – is the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge. This project consists of the main bridge sections, plus a 6.7 km (4.2 mi) tunnel on the eastern side, linking to Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. There are four lanes running in each direction, with a maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). Travel times between Shenzhen and Zhongshan are cut from two hours to 30 minutes.

Hong Kong and Shenzhen, two of China's most important cities, are competing for growth in the west of the region where land and labour are cheaper.*
The more successful of these bridges turns out to be the Shenzhen-Zhongshan route, drawing as much as 40% of traffic away from the Hong Kong-
Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and reducing the regional dominance of Hong Kong's airport and harbour.*

 

Shenzhen Zhongshan Bridge 2021
By Croquant (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

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References

1 ExoMars Rover, Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExoMars_(rover)
Accessed 26th August 2018.

2 Construction of the James Webb Space Telescope mirror is completed, Future Timeline Blog:
http://www.futuretimeline.net/blog/2016/11/5.htm
Accessed 8th January 2018.

3 James Webb Space Telescope, Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope
Accessed 26th August 2018.

4 They're Baaack, TIME:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,638434,00.html
Accessed 4th December 2011.

5 Genetic test could pave the way for breast cancer 'magic bullets', The Independent:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/genetic-test-could-pave-the-way-for-breast-cancer-magic-bullets-7658168.html
Accessed 6th October 2012.

6 Breast cancer gene discovery 'like finding gold', The Telegraph:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8490070/Breast-cancer-gene-discovery-like-finding-gold.html
Accessed 6th October 2012.

7 Browse the SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2009, The National Cancer Institute:
http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2009_pops09/browse_csr.php
Accessed: 6th October 2012.

8 Breast cancer survival statistics: Figure 3.3: Breast cancer (C50), Age-Standardised Five-Year Relative Survival Rates, Females, England and Wales 1971-1995, England 1996-2009, Cancer Research UK (latest available data):
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/breast/survival/#One-
Accessed: 6th October 2012.

9 Breast cancer survival could reach 100% by 2034; physically active lifestyle helps lower risk, Future Timeline Blog:
https://www.futuretimeline.net/blog/2012/09/8-3.htm
Accessed 6th October 2012.

10 Trends & Technology Timeline 2010+, What's Next:
http://nowandnext.com/PDF/trends_and_technology_timeline_2010.pdf
Accessed 19th August 2012.

11 What's Next: the future, predicted..., Wired:
http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2009/05/features/whats-next-the-future-from-2009-to-249?page=all
Accessed 19th August 2012.

12 Male birth control pill moves a step closer, Future Timeline Blog:
https://www.futuretimeline.net/blog/2012/08/16.htm
Accessed 19th August 2012.

13 JQ1 "may enter clinical trial testing within a year".
See Researchers develop prototype for male birth control pill, Fox News:
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/08/16/researchers-develop-prototype-for-male-birth-control-pill/
Accessed 19th August 2012.

14 "Many standard treatments used today are the result of past clinical trials, which involve a strict and rigorous, multi-step process that takes eight years on average to complete."
See Frequently Asked Questions, The University of Arizona Cancer Center:
http://azcc.arizona.edu/patients/clinical-trials/faq
Accessed 19th August 2012.

15 See 2020.

16 Shuvo Roy, Scientist and Inventor of the Artificial Kidney, The Daily Star:
http://www.thedailystar.net/suppliments/2012/anniversary_2012/section3/101.htm
Accessed 22nd April 2012.

17 UCSF Artificial Kidney Project Tapped for Accelerated FDA Program, UCSF:
http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/04/11836/ucsf-artificial-kidney-project-tapped-accelerated-fda-program
Accessed 22nd April 2012.

18 FDA program to foster innovation starts with kidneys, Reuters:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/09/us-fda-devices-innovation-idUSBRE8380TC20120409
Accessed 22nd April 2012.

19 New Terrafugia TF-X flying car revealed, Auto Car:
http://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/new-terrafugia-tf-x-flying-car-revealed
Accessed 7th March 2016.

20 Samsung predicts the world 100 years from now, Future Timeline Blog:
https://www.futuretimeline.net/blog/2016/02/24.htm
Accessed 7th March 2016.

21 Dubai shoots for the stars with aim to become satellite hub, The National:
http://www.thenational.ae/business/industry-insights/economics/dubai-shoots-for-the-stars-with-aim-to-become-satellite-hub
Accessed 19th July 2014.

22 UAE makes plans to send unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, SOURCE:
http://www.thenational.ae/uae/technology/uae-makes-plans-to-send-unmanned-probe-to-mars-by-2021#full
Accessed 19th July 2014.

23 Europe sets its sights on Ariane 6 , CNES:
http://www.cnes.fr/web/CNES-en/10705-gp-europe-sets-its-sights-on-ariane-6.php
Accessed 10th July 2013.

24 The baseline configuration of Ariane 6 selected by consensus on the basis of decisions taken by ESA's Ministerial Council, ESA:
http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Launchers/The_baseline_configuration_of_Ariane_6
Accessed 10th July 2013.

25 Europe okays design for next-generation rocket, PhysOrg:
http://phys.org/news/2013-07-europe-okays-next-generation-rocket.html
Accessed 10th July 2013.

26 India's Human Spaceflight Program - Space Pod 04/21/15, YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elen_lIbTfo
Accessed 9th March 2016.

27 Video from 2014:
India Will be Ready to Launch Manned Space Mission in a Few Years: ISRO Chairman to NDTV,
NDTV:
http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-will-be-ready-to-launch-manned-space-mission-in-a-few-years-isro-chairman-to-ndtv-692766
Accessed 9th March 2016.

28 ISRO Orbital Vehicle, Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISRO_Orbital_Vehicle
Accessed 9th March 2016.

29 Wireless power system shown off, BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8165928.stm
Accessed 4th February 2013.

30 Wireless Power Devices to Reach Critical Mass During the Next Decade, Navigant Research:
https://www.navigantresearch.com/newsroom/wireless-power-devices-to-reach-critical-mass-during-the-next-decade
Accessed 3rd January 2018.

31 How Wireless Charging Will Make Life Simpler (And Greener), Forbes:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidferris/2012/07/24/how-wireless-charging-will-make-life-simpler-and-greener/
Accessed 4th February 2013.

32 Complex Integrated Circuits Made of Carbon Nanotubes, Technology Review:
http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/24236/page1/
Accessed 4th January 2010.

33 Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong%E2%80%93Zhuhai%E2%80%93Macau_Bridge
Accessed 20th January 2018.

34 New Bridge Could Up Hong Kong-Shenzhen Rivalry, Wall Street Journal:
http://live.wsj.com/video/new-bridge-could-up-hong-kong-shenzhen-rivalry/8D8DB233-A1B9-4F9F-85B2-994218CD4116.html#!8D8DB233-A1B9-4F9F-85B2-994218CD4116
Accessed 2nd June 2014.

35 Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge, Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen-Zhongshan_Bridge
Accessed 2nd June 2014.

 

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