Private companies are increasingly active in the space sector – from high-profile businesses such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to the nearly 3,000 small businesses that provide elements for the European Space Agency’s space programme. In March, Horizon explores the impact of this on research and innovation. We speak to a space law researcher about how to avoid the problems emerging from an increasingly crowded orbit, such as collisions. We look at how to minimise the environmental impact of satellites and delve into efforts to build a reusable European launcher for small payloads. We also look at the challenge of assembling, maintaining and repairing objects in space and the developments in space robotics that could help.
If you want to build or fix something in space, you might think you’d need a human to do it. But what if you didn’t? What if robotic spacecraft could be used to refuel satellites in orbit, add new instruments to outdated machinery and even build entire structures while in space?
We need to improve how we keep track of objects in space and predict where they will go in order to avoid collisions in Earth’s increasingly crowded orbit, according to Dimitra Stefoudi, a space law researcher from Leiden University in the Netherlands.
More than 30% of car journeys in Europe are under 3km long and could potentially be swapped for different, greener, forms of transport. In February, we look at alternative ways of getting people and goods around cities - a challenge known in the industry as the problem of the ‘last mile’. We speak to Karen Vancluysen of cities network POLIS, who says that cities may have to introduce some unpopular measures to change the way people move around, and we look at how soon commuters will be able to rely on automated shuttles to ferry them from door to door. We delve into the environmental problems caused by unsuccessful home deliveries and what can be done about them, and the new technologies that could change the way goods are delivered.
In January, we examine how the cryosphere - ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and other frozen parts of the planet - is changing and what this means for our planet. Earth’s cryosphere reflects the sun’s heat, regulating climate. But as the cryosphere melts, sea levels are rising and there are other impacts too – such as glacier collapse, which can generate massive avalanches. We speak to glacier expert Professor Andreas Kääb about the current state of the planet’s ice and snow and how better satellite measurements can help us understand the impacts of melting. We look at Earth’s so-called 'third pole’ of the Tibetan plateau and how ice melt will affect the millions who live in the mountains and those who depend on its run-off for water. We look at a project drilling in the Antarctic for what could be the world’s oldest ice (1.5 million years old) to see what it can reveal about climate history. And we speak to sea ice scientist Polona Itkin to get a glimpse into a day in her life aboard German icebreaker Polarstern, currently carrying out the largest Arctic expedition in history.
The race for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is on, with 54 different vaccines under development, two of which are already being tested in humans, according to the World Health Organization. And among the different candidates is a new player on the scene – mRNA vaccines.
What are they and why are they promising for coronavirus?
Moving away from hydrazine would require disrupting existing systems.
The more satellite launches we do, the bigger the risk of damage or debris, says Dimitra Stefoudi.