Science and technology: flying taxis…what we aim to achieve by 2023
Ben Morris Enterprise Technology Writer
At 1:30 am on Monday, December 5, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, USA, ignited the most powerful laser beam on Earth, in an experiment that caused great excitement throughout the world of physics and other fields.
The laser beam targeted an energy capsule the size of a black peppercorn, and the resulting temperature and pressure triggered nuclear fusion – the same type of reaction that occurs inside the Sun.
The National Ignition Facility, which specializes in laser research, has conducted similar experiments before, but this time the energy generated by the reaction was greater than the laser power used to produce it.
This is a historic moment for nuclear fusion scientists, and although fusion reactors still have a long way to go before they can produce usable electricity, experience shows that it is possible.
“We’ve taken the first experimental steps toward a clean energy source that has the potential to change the world,” said Kim Bodell, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The potential for a successful nuclear fusion reactor is staggering. This reactor would require a small amount of fuel, and it would produce no greenhouse gas emissions, and it would produce a very small amount of nuclear waste, which is the waste that makes existing nuclear reactors unfavorable.
The success of the NII experiment will motivate many private companies that hope to one day build a fusion reactor. A British private sector company hopes to make significant progress by 2023.
First Light Fusion, based near Oxford, has an innovative way of creating the conditions for nuclear fusion.
The company is conducting experiments in which it launches a small aluminum disc at a speed of 20 kilometers per second towards a specially designed target containing the fuel needed to cause fusion.
When the collision occurs, the target fragments and creates a massive pressure wave that can trigger a fusion reaction.
Earlier this year, in what is considered a pivotal moment for First Light, the company announced that it had achieved nuclear fusion using this method.
In 2023, the company’s team will begin work on “Machine 4”, a reactor larger than its current reactor, which it hopes will also break the magic barrier of nuclear fusion – generating more energy. energy than it gives.
First Light is racing against dozens of other companies pursuing nuclear fusion, but its founder is confident his company is headed in the right direction.
“I think 2023 will be the year we make a big strategic shift,” said Nick Hooker, Founder of First Light Fusion.
“We are moving from a very large and complex experiment to advancing toward commercial-scale fusion power generation.” Back in the United States, another big announcement in the world of nuclear fusion is expected in early 2023.
The US government will announce the name of the private company that will receive $50 million in funding to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor.
The goal is to have the country have a working reactor by the early 2030s.
What is the future of aeronautics?
Imagine a plane that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but without the noise, high costs and polluting emissions. That’s the view of the companies that developed what they call eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle).
Dozens of companies around the world are betting there is a market for these planes, which are designed to make short trips and accommodate a few passengers.
These companies say eVTOLs have the potential to lower the cost of flying because their electric motors are cheaper to operate and maintain than helicopter motors.
Moreover, these companies added that these planes are quieter and do not emit polluting emissions.
One company hoping to become a player in these industries is Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace.
Its VX4 first debuted last year. On its initial flight, the aircraft was only anchored to the ground and in the air for 10 minutes.
But the real progress will come in 2023 with a series of test flights. The aircraft will switch from vertical takeoff to forward flight, flying at higher altitudes and faster speeds.
The goal is to get a license for the VX4 so it can carry passengers by 2025.
Vertical Aerospace is racing with other companies to develop vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) electric vehicle technologies, which will also be tested on their planes.
Germany-based Volocopter plans to conduct public test flights of its VoloCity aircraft next year. He hopes to license his device by 2024 and then launch services in Singapore, Paris and Rome.
Also next year, Lilium intends to produce its first VTOL-powered aircraft. The Germany-based company has tested five prototype planes since 2017.
Instead of using propellers like Vertical Aerospace and Volocopters, Lilliam uses 30 symmetrically positioned electric jet motors to help the plane transition from vertical takeoff to horizontal flight.
The biggest obstacle to these projects is obtaining permits from aviation authorities – a long and difficult process that can take years.
Have we said goodbye to the problem of lack of coverage?
Even in rich countries, there are places where it is impossible for people to get a strong coverage signal for their cell phones.
Add to that the billions of people in poorer countries and remote areas of the planet without signal coverage, and you have a huge untapped market.
AST SpaceMobile, a Texas-based company, wants to fill a gap in the mobile phone market.
The company, which is backed by big names in the mobile phone industry – including AT&T and Vodafone – is developing technology that allows a mobile phone to connect directly to a satellite to make calls or use data at 5G speeds.
The company currently has one experimental satellite in low Earth orbit, but plans to launch five more satellites by 2023.
These satellites can provide intermittent coverage, and the company plans to provide continuous coverage around the world when it launches 100 satellites. around Earth – possibly by 2024.
AST will not sell its services directly to customers, but works with mobile operators to offer its satellite coverage as an additional option.
That will be a challenge for Starlink, the satellite broadband internet company founded by Elon Musk. This service requires a small satellite dish.
AST hopes the ease of getting coverage with just one phone, and the reasonable price, will be a big draw.
“Coverage gaps are a reality, and they are a problem,” said Scott Wisniewski, one of the company’s directors.
“So it’s a very attractive solution and a very large market. That’s why we’ve had a lot of carrier support.”