Bitcoin is a form of digital money that was created in 2009 by an unknown person. As a decentralised virtual currency, the system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without the need for banks or transaction fees.* These payments are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called the "block chain", which uses bitcoin as its unit of account. Although these records are public, the names of buyers and sellers are completely anonymous; only their wallet IDs are revealed. International payments are easy and cheap, since bitcoins are not tied to any specific country and are mostly unregulated.
New bitcoins are created as a reward for payment processing work in which users offer their computer processing power to verify and record payments into the public ledger. This activity is known as "mining" and miners are rewarded with transaction fees and newly created bitcoins. Besides being obtained by mining, bitcoins can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. Bitcoin became the first cryptocurrency – and by far the most well-known – but various others were introduced in subsequent years. These were frequently referred to as altcoins; a blend of bitcoin alternative.
The underlying block chain technology of these virtual currencies grew in popularity. Money was just one of their many possible applications. They could be programmed to represent units of energy, shares in a company, election votes, digital certificates of ownership, or whatever properties its users wished to assign. The open, transparent and flexible nature of cryptocurrencies helped to reduce bureaucracy, made administrative processes faster and more efficient and enabled the automation of many systems.
This became especially useful as the Internet of Things began to take shape. Machines could be programmed to automatically perform transactions and order new items or services when required, using the block chain for verification, without the need for banks or middle men. For example, a fridge or vending machine would know when its supplies were running low and ensure that food was kept regularly stocked.
In 2015, the number of merchants accepting bitcoin for products and services passed 100,000. Block chain was described as "one of the most powerful innovations in finance in 500 years" by the Wall Street Journal, with many banks predicting it could revolutionise their operations.* A tipping point for government use of the technology occurs by 2023, with large-scale adoption by businesses and the public by 2027.* Around 10% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) is stored on a block chain by this time, compared to just 0.025% in 2015. The supply growth is 25 bitcoins per block in 2016 (approximately every ten minutes), then afterwards 12.5 bitcoins per block for four years until the next halving. This halving continues until 2110–40, when 21 million bitcoins have been issued.*
The Aerion AS2 supersonic jet enters service
Following many years of research and development, a supersonic business jet for the super rich is launched this year by the aerospace company Aerion. Known as the AS2, it has a top speed of Mach 1.5, which is 67 percent faster than the top cruise speeds of conventional long-haul subsonic aircraft. Carrying between eight and 12 passengers, the AS2 has a range of 4,750 nautical miles at supersonic speed. It can save 2.5 hours across the Atlantic versus subsonic aircraft and more than five hours on longer trans-Pacific routes. This three-engine jet has its first test flight in 2021 and enters commercial service in 2023.* A competitor supersonic jet – the Spike S-512 – was launched some years earlier, in 2018.* These jets are among the first in a new generation of dramatically faster airliners. The wing design of the AS2 allows for lighter fuel consumption and increased travel ranges by reducing aerodynamic drag by 20%.*
First crewed flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft
In 2023, NASA conducts the first crewed test flight of Orion, a spacecraft that will eventually take humans to Mars. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), to give its full name, was announced in 2011. Its design was based on the earlier Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which formed part of the cancelled program known as Constellation. The spacecraft would consist of two main parts: the command module (built by Lockheed Martin) and the service module (provided by the European Space Agency). The total mass of the 5 m (16 ft) diameter craft was 28.5 tons (57,000 lb), with a habitable volume of nine cubic metres. It would sit atop the Space Launch System (SLS), a huge new rocket being developed for journeys to the Moon and Mars.
In December 2014, the first unmanned test flight took place. This was successfully launched by a Delta IV heavy lift rocket, reaching a higher altitude than any spacecraft intended for human use since 1973. Orion made two highly elliptical orbits of the Earth, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
A second test flight would be conducted in late 2018, the first to be launched using the new SLS rocket. This would involve the Orion – again uncrewed – spending approximately three weeks in space, with six days of this in a retrograde orbit around the Moon. The main purpose of this mission was to demonstrate the integrated spacecraft systems prior to a crewed flight, and in addition, test a high speed reentry (11 km/s) on Orion's thermal protection system. A payload of 13 low-cost CubeSats would reside in the second stage of the launch vehicle, from which they would be deployed for studying the Moon, near-Earth asteroids and in various other space missions.
A third flight occurs in 2023 – the first involving both a human crew and the SLS rocket.* Four astronauts are carried into a distant retrograde orbit of about 44,000 miles (71,000 km) from the Moon for a period of two weeks. This mission is the first time humans have departed low Earth orbit (LEO) since Apollo 17 in December 1972, more than 50 years earlier. The crew enters lunar orbit, tests critical mission events, and performs various operations in relevant environments.
Over the course of 18 years – from the earlier Constellation program (initiated in 2005), through to its first crewed flight (2023) – the total cost of Orion is in the region of $17 billion.* The SLS budget is $7 billion from early 2014 through to the rocket's first demonstration launch in 2018.
Following the first crewed flight of Orion, a number of additional tests are conducted in subsequent years. One such mission involves a flyby of a small asteroid captured in lunar orbit. Alongside this, new upgrades are introduced to make both the SLS and Orion more versatile. Arguably the most significant of these is a new configuration for the SLS that nearly doubles its payload from 70,000 kg to a massive 130,000 kg. New modules are developed to expand the available habitat volume, extend mission durations and improve docking and other functions.* This combination of larger and more powerful rockets and the improved capabilities of the Orion MPCV enables manned missions to Mars in the 2030s.*
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.
In addition to Mars, a sample is also returned from an asteroid this year. Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is NASA's first asteroid sample-return effort and only the second mission in history to retrieve samples from an asteroid.* Launched in 2016, it is the third selected mission in the New Frontiers Program, along with Juno and New Horizons.
The probe is sent to 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous rock about 500m (1,640 ft) in diameter and classed as an Apollo asteroid. These are near-Earth asteroids whose orbits cross that of Earth. 101955 Bennu is of particular interest because it has a small chance of colliding with Earth between the years 2169 and 2199.*
Arriving in 2020, the probe carries a suite of instruments which includes high resolution cameras for close-range imaging of the surface. The sample is returned to Earth in 2023. It reveals much about the formation and evolution of the early Solar System, initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds which led to the formation of life.* The total cost of the mission (including the launch vehicle) is approximately $1 billion.
Launch of the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is an infrared space observatory launched by NASA. It is designed to settle fundamental questions about the nature of dark energy, which is believed to be driving the expansion of the Universe. It uses three distinct techniques – measurements of weak gravitational lensing, supernova distances, and baryon acoustic oscillations – to establish the effects of dark energy on the evolution of galaxies and the wider cosmos. This is achieved with a 288-megapixel focal-plane array. It also features a technology demonstration of a coronagraph, for direct imaging of exoplanets from a large sample of stars in the central bulge of the Milky Way. The WFIRST adds to a plethora of new knowledge from other missions such as the Euclid Space Telescope launched in 2020.
fusion energy makes progress
confinement, as seen in ITER, has thus far been the preferred approach to studying fusion energy.
However, the potential of lasers is now being explored in greater depth.
Following years of engineering and construction, a major new research
facility is operational in Europe.* This
aims to demonstrate the feasibility of commercial-level fusion.
Power laser Energy Research facility (HiPER) uses a laser-driven inertial
confinement reactor. Lasers are fired into a central core, where they
collide with a single fuel pellet, compressing it to high density. A
second laser is then fired, in a more intense pulse with nanosecond
precision. This ignites the fuel, raising the core temperature to over
a hundred million degrees celsius – hotter than the centre of the Sun
– allowing fusion reactions to occur. Helium is formed, releasing energetic
neutrons in the process. These neutrons are captured, generating electricity.
"fast ignition" approach uses much smaller lasers than previous
designs, yet generates power of the same magnitude. This offers a total
"fusion gain" that is much higher than earlier devices, with
a ten-fold reduction in construction costs.
only a prototype – but when fully developed, fusion will become a revolutionary
form of energy production. It will be a giant leap forward in addressing
climate change, pollution, energy security and the ever increasing demand
The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is operational
The UK's first commercial nuclear reactor began operating in 1956 and, at the peak in 1997, 26% of the nation's electricity was generated from nuclear power. In the early 21st century, however, many of these aging reactors were being retired and the share had declined to 19% by 2012. Of the remaining nine plants – with a combined capacity of 9,000 MW – eight were due for closure by the early 2020s. Not only that, but the majority of coal power stations needed replacing too. The UK faced the prospect of losing two-thirds of its electricity by 2030, unless major investment was undertaken to improve its energy infrastructure.
In 2011, the government announced plans for an entire new fleet of nuclear power plants.* All would be constructed at or near existing sites, to minimise disruption. Among the first of these was Hinkley Point C – proposed next to Hinkley A and B, a pair of older stations.* This was approved in October 2013.* Two reactors would be installed with a combined capacity of 3,200 MW – enough to supply nearly 6 million homes, or an area twice the size of London, accounting for 7% of the country's electricity.*
The project has total costs of £16 bn ($26 bn) and is funded by a consortium of French and Chinese investors, including EDF Group. The facility comes online by 2023, becoming the first in a new generation of nuclear plants for the UK, the last having been built in 1995. It remains operational for around 60 years.**
The Type 26 Global Combat Ship enters service
The Type 26 Global Combat Ship is a British Royal Navy vessel that replaces the aging Type 23 frigates. Following 25 years of research and development that began in 1998, it enters service in 2023,* with the programme running until the 2030s. A total of eight ships are constructed by BAE Systems during this time at a cost of nearly £12 billion ($16.5 billion). They remain in service until 2060.*
The Type 26 forms a general purpose fleet with air defence, anti-ship, towed array sonar and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Each of these 150 m (492 ft) vessels has a crew complement of 118 (with capacity for 208), a top speed in excess of 26 knots (30 mph; 48 km/h), up to 8,000 tons of displacement when fully loaded, and a maximum range of 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 km). The ships are designed for multi-role versatility, flexibility in adapting to future needs, affordability in both construction and through-life support costs, and exportability.
The Type 26 features a number of improvements over its predecessor, the Type 23. It packs a formidable array of weaponry that includes strike length VLS silos enabling the ship to fire a mix of current and planned future missiles such as land attack missiles, very long range anti-ship missiles (far further than before) and anti-submarine missile torpedoes. Its missiles can target various air, sea and coastal threats – including speedboats, patrol boats, coastal batteries, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The ship's guns include a five inch BAE Mk 45 naval gun, two 30 mm DS30M Mk2 guns, two Phalanx CIWS weapon systems (for defence against anti-ship missiles) and a pair of miniguns, along with four general purpose machine guns.
Being of greater size than its predecessor, the Type 26 has more aviation capacity and storage space. Its hangar can accommodate two helicopters (Royal Navy Wildcats and Merlins), while its flight deck supports a Chinook helicopter – a major improvement, which matches the Type 45 Destroyers' Chinook-capable deck. The extra space enables a larger multi-role mission bay to hold more supplies, a mini hospital, disaster relief equipment and up to 60 Royal Marines, as well as mine hunting equipment.
If necessary, a fleet of these ships can be organised to have a group of 18 helicopters take off simultaneously and land more than 1,000 soldiers at a drop zone in a single movement. This brings massive force to bear immediately and makes full use of any element of surprise; a big improvement over previous fleet operational mission abilities.
Another notable feature of the Type 26 is an additional connected hangar and "flexible mission bay" at the aft end of the ship. This enables the ship to function as a base for launching small boats, as well as autonomous marine vehicles.
The Type 26 is designed with modularity and flexibility in mind to enhance versatility across the full range of operations, including maritime security, counter piracy, counter terrorist and humanitarian and disaster relief operations. The ship includes a Meteorological and Oceanographic (METOC) system, which collates and analyses environmental information to support operations.
Britain's navy had already received a boost from the recent completion of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The Type 26 Global Combat Ship is another highly important addition. By the 2030s, about half of the Royal Navy's front line personnel are operating on these frigates. The modular design and open systems architecture ensure they can be easily upgraded as new technology develops.
celebrates its 100th anniversary as an independent republic
are taking place this year to mark the centenary of the
Turkish Republic. As part of its anniversary, one of the grandest infrastructure projects in history is completed: the Canal Istanbul. This artificial waterway connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Measuring 30 miles (48 km) in length, and 500 ft (150m) wide, this dissects the European side of Istanbul in two, thus creating a new island between Asia and Istanbul.* It bypasses the already existing Bosphorus Strait, substantially reducing congestion on the water and minimising the potential for collisions between oil tankers.* Excavated soil is used in the construction of a major new port, together with an airport, as well as the burying of defunct mines in the region.
Turkey has also achieved energy independence by now, with 10 billion barrels
of oil and over 1.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas uncovered
in the Black Sea.* These huge
reserves have enabled the country to completely end its reliance on
foreign imports. Turkey's standing in the world has increased significantly in recent years.* However, it has yet to be accepted into the European Union.*
Completion of the London "super sewer"
The Thames Tideway scheme is the biggest wastewater project in London since the mid-19th century. It involves a major upgrade of the aging Victorian system – helping to prevent discharge into the River Thames during periods of heavy rainfall and improving the overall quality of the city's water. The storage-and-transfer tunnel is 35km long, with shafts 25m in diameter, 75m below ground for most of the route.* It runs across the city from west to east, then west again to a final pumping station.
Prior to the completion of this megaproject, some 32 million cubic metres of raw sewage was being discharged into the river each year. An overflow was occuring every week, even during moderate rainfall. By 2009, the situation had become so bad that the British government was threatened with legal action in the European Court of Justice.*
The Thames Tideway attracted controversy, however. Opponents raised concerns over the cost to Londoners (£4.1bn) and the impact of construction works on parks and house prices. Nevertheless, it goes ahead and is eventually finished by 2023.*
Brain implants to restore lost memories
By now, it's becoming possible to replicate small areas of the brain with "neural prostheses" in order to repair damage from Alzheimer's, stroke or injury. This includes the restoration of lost memories. These devices can mimic the electrochemical signals from regions like the hippocampus (involved in consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory, as well as spatial navigation).
Experiments were initially conducted on rodents,* then monkeys,* before moving to human volunteers in 2015.* After eight years of clinical studies, the process can now be safely performed in hospitals. Electrode arrays are first used to record the activity of healthy brain tissue. The unique patterns responsible for creating memories are detected and stored by a computer. These patterns are then used to predict what the "downstream" damaged areas should be doing. Finally, the desired activity in healthy areas can be replicated by stimulating brain cells with electrodes. The neural prosthesis therefore bridges the gap from healthy to damaged areas.
A combination of these memory implants and drugs can treat early dementia and memory loss. In patients with advanced Alzheimer's, however, the neural signals are usually too degraded for a successful outcome. Nevertheless, this new treatment is a significant step forward in understanding the brain. Eventually, it will be possible to mimic entire regions – bypassing the hippocampus, for example – with complex functions being replaced entirely by electrode signals. Further into the future, as neural implants continue to improve in power, this will pave the way for uploading of minds into computer substrates.*
rainforests have been wiped from the map
3rd largest island, Borneo was once home to a staggering range of biodiversity,
covering hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. Its lush rainforests
have now almost completely disappeared as a result of deforestation.* Many rare species are close to extinction around this time including the Orangutan – one of the most intelligent of the great apes.*
Rampant poaching, large-scale deforestation,
agriculture, mining, pollution, disease and militia operations have
led to the terminal decline of gorilla populations in Central Africa.* Only those in captivity now remain.
Driverless high-speed trains begin operating in France
In 2023, France begins rolling out high-speed, autonomous trains on its TGV network. The SNCF – France's national state-owned railway company – began testing these "drone trains" in 2019. After four years of trials with a prototype, they are now ready for commercial use. The new trains are equipped with sensors to detect any potential hazards and automatically brake, if necessary. They can reach speeds of almost 200 mph (320 km/h) and their greater efficiency means that 25% more trains can be run on the same lines. While a number of slower trains had already been automated before, the SNCF becomes the first operator in the world to run automated high-speed trains.* Initially, conductors remain on board in case of an emergency.* The service runs between Paris and destinations to the southeast of France, but is gradually expanded to other parts of the country.
By Taxiarchos228 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
13 "The report's authors said that, regardless of the start date, it would take five years for the precious 500g (1.1lb) sample to be returned to Earth."
See Date set for Mars sample mission, BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7500371.stm
Accessed 10th December 2011.
15 Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft was the first, successfully returning tiny grains of the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in June 2010. See Hayabusa, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayabusa
Accessed 1st August 2012.