2016

Orbital solar power

The first orbital solar power station is put into operation this year. This concept has been theoretical for decades, but has finally become a reality thanks to improvements in high-energy conversion devices, heavy-launch vehicles, and a revolutionary spacecraft design by California-based company, Solaren Inc.

Using a hexagonal arrangement of solar panels in Earth orbit, the station generates power by converting sunlight into radio-frequency transmissions, which are beamed down to a receiving station. From there, the energy is converted into electricity and fed into the power grid. Over 200 megawatts of power can be generated in this way – enough to supply 250,000 homes and keep nearly a million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere each year.

Unlike ground-based solar arrays, space satellites can generate power 24 hours a day, being unaffected by cloudy weather or the day-night cycle of Earth. The capacity factor for ground-based solar is typically less than 25%, but for a satellite is 97%.

Another company – Space Energy, Inc. – have plans to provide space-based solar power by 2019.

5G wireless communications

Super-fast data transfer up to 12.5Gb/s is now available to mobile phones and other wireless digital devices. The service initially operates in Europe, but is eventually adopted by America and the rest of the world. This form of technology is becoming so fast that it will soon make computer hard drives redundant, since vast quantities of data can be stored online and retrieved almost instantly, with virtually no lag. With little need for physical storage space, laptops begin evolving into highly compact, ultra-lightweight forms.

A new generation of ultra-powerful telescopes

Construction of a new generation of telescopes has been completed. These include the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile (which has over four times the light-gathering power of existing instruments), the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (which has an aperture of 42 metres).

Bio-cameras matching human eye resolution

Advances in biotech and sensor technology have enabled the development of tiny “bio-cameras”. These devices can be implanted like contact lenses, and are capable of taking photos with hundreds of millions of pixels’ worth of visual information: equal to the resolution of the human eye itself.

For now, they are a luxury item used only by the rich – or in specialist roles such as covert spying operations. However, within a few years they will begin entering mainstream use, and future versions will enable the capture of moving video and audio in addition to static photos.

EU bans incandescent lightbulbs

After nearly a century of use, incandescent lightbulbs have been replaced with energy-saving lightbulbs all across the European Union. Traditional filament bulbs had been responsible for burning almost 15% of household electricity.

Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games

2017

2016

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