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Launch of the Far-Infrared (FIR) Great Observatory

The Far-Infrared (FIR) Great Observatory is the second in a trio of next-generation space telescopes planned by NASA. Launched in 2047, it follows the earlier Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO) that began operations in 2041.

As its name suggests, the FIR observatory is designed to study astronomical phenomena at far-infrared wavelengths – which are outside the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared capabilities of the HWO. It functions as the long-awaited successor to the Spitzer Space Telescope, which had a mission duration of 17 years from 2003 until 2020. Its final design is based partly on an earlier concept known as the Origins Space Telescope.**

While the HWO is focused on the direct imaging of Earth-like planets, the FIR observatory is targeted primarily at galaxies, black holes, molecular clouds and proto-planetary disks. One of its major science objectives is to investigate supermassive black holes – which lurk at the centre of most galaxies – and how they influence star formation. It can use far-infrared spectroscopy to penetrate the dust and gas surrounding these objects, revealing specific spectral lines related to star formation and feedback from black hole winds.

It also traces the journey of water from molecular clouds to proto-planetary disks, providing major insights into the formation of new planetary systems and how life-bearing exoplanets form. This improves the understanding of Earth and its early history too.

Additionally, the FIR generates a near-complete census of the outer Solar System, using its far-infrared capabilities to reveal some of the last remaining undiscovered minor planets beyond Pluto.

Astronomers using the FIR can collaborate with teams using the HWO – and researchers at major new ground-based facilities too, such as the Thirty Metre and Giant Magellan Telescope – to combine and refine their measurements. In studies of exoplanets, for example, the FIR can help to confirm temperatures, atmospheric compositions, and chemical ingredients for life.

The instruments on the FIR observatory are at the cutting edge of astrophysics, with up to 1,000 times the sensitivity and resolution of any previous telescope operating in far-infrared wavelengths. Following the HWO and FIR, a third and final mission in the New Great Observatory series is launched with X-ray capability, beginning science operations a few years later in 2051.* This generation of space telescopes remains in service until the 2070s.*


far infrared space telescope 2040s



Fully autonomous, intelligent military aircraft

Most of today's jet fighters are now entirely computer controlled. These unmanned planes have fully autonomous capability from the moment they take off, to the moment they land. A combination of strong AI, swarming behaviour and hypersonic technology is employed to create near-instantaneous effects throughout the battlespace.*

The growth of network-centric warfare and the increasing complexity of enemy types, movements and environmental factors has led to major advances in target recognition technology and collision avoidance systems. This allows whole squadrons of pilotless planes to synchronise, attack from multiple vectors and regroup in seconds. Further autonomy is provided by auto air refueling, self-repair and other systems.

With the emergence of AI, personnel costs have shifted from operations, maintenance and training, to design and development. Machines can perform repairs in-flight (including the use of "self-healing" nanotechnology composites) while routine ground maintenance requires little or no human labour, being done mostly by robots. New tactics and information can simply be programmed into the aircraft, or they can "learn" from others in the swarm.

With their hypersonic engines, inhuman reaction times, and improved weaponry, these craft would run rings around human pilots of earlier decades. Following the retirement of the F-35 Lightning II, manned fighter planes are now largely obsolete.


autonomous military aircraft future uav technology 2040 2047 2050
Credit: DARPA



Unmanned probe to 2060 Chiron

2060 Chiron is a minor planet found in the outer Solar System.* Discovered in 1977, it became the first in a new class of objects known as centaurs – small bodies orbiting between Saturn and Uranus – and named after the race of half-man/half-horses from Greek mythology, in recognition of their dual comet/asteroid nature.

2060 Chiron has a radius of around 145 miles (233 km) and a parabolic orbit going from just inside the orbit of Saturn (8.5 AU) to just outside the orbit of Uranus (19 AU). With an orbital period of 51 years, it reaches perihelion in 2047.* As part of the recent exploration of the Kuiper Belt, an unmanned robotic probe has been sent to intercept it, arriving this year.

The mission returns vital data about Chiron's size, shape, polar obliquity, atmosphere, surface morphology, composition, internal structure, surface activity (including the nature of Chiron's outbursts), and its origin. NASA had been planning for such a mission as far back as 1994.*


centaur 2060 chiron 2047 perihelion




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1 The Far Infrared Observatory, The New Great Observatories:
Accessed 1st February 2023.

2 Origins Space Telescope, Wikipedia:
Accessed 1st February 2023.

3 NASA prepares next steps in development of future large space telescope, SpaceNews:
Accessed 1st February 2023.

4 "The timescales involved are phenomenal. If Hubble and Chandra are anything to go by, the next-generation telescopes launched in the 2040s could still be operational in the 2070s or beyond."
See 'Great observatories' – the next generation of NASA's space telescopes, and their impact on the next century of observational astronomy, Physics World:
Accessed 1st February 2023.

5 United States Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047, GlobalSecurity.org
Accessed 14th August 2010.

6 2060 Chiron, Wikipedia:
Accessed 8th July 2012.

7 The Chiron Perihelion Campaign, NASA:
Accessed 8th July 2012.

8 A Low-Cost Mission to 2060 Chiron Based on the Pluto Fast Flyby, NASA:
Accessed 1st February 2023.


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