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But what if you didn’t? What if robotic spacecraft could be used to refuel satellites in orbit, add new instruments to outdated machinery and even build entire structures while in space?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.
With around half a million species of insects reported to be at risk of extinction and studies already showing a large decline in abundance, this month Horizon looks at what reduced insect biodiversity means for us – and what we can do about it. We speak to rove beetle expert Dr Alexey Solodovnikov about the services insects provide, from waste disposal and pollination to monitoring climate change and providing information about a new pandemic. We find out how scientists hope to cut the use of pesticides – one of the big culprits for reducing insect diversity – with new ways of pest control. We look at how efforts to boost urban green space in Europe’s cities is impacting insect life and we ask whether people’s attitudes to insects affect conservation efforts.
The coronavirus pandemic rattled our supply chains, putting them under intense pressure and forcing many to become aware of these complex systems that bring us food, medicine and other goods. Was 2020 a wake-up call to rethink supply chains? Or have they proved more robust than we feared and should continue as business as usual? In February, we ask whether today’s supply chains are due for reconfiguration. We speak to Dr Tessa Avermaete, a bioeconomist at KU Leuven in Belgium, about why short and local is not always better – or more sustainable – when it comes to food supply. We look at how medical supply chains can be maintained or even set up during a crisis situation, and at the environmental and social impacts of Europe’s supply chains on the rest of the world. And we look at how, in the future, goods from food to furniture could be transported according to new concept called the ‘physical internet’, where logistics mimics how information travels through the internet.
Professor Johan Neyts, a virologist at the Rega Institute for Medical Research at KU Leuven in Belgium, leads a team searching for drugs that can help us in the fight against Covid-19. His laboratory is part of two projects that are screening millions of compounds to find some that block the coronavirus from replicating and so keep patients from falling sick. He told Horizon about why this search is so important and how it might keep us safe from future pandemics.
Insects are vital to the health of our planet but they can also reveal a lot about climate change and help us fight future vector-borne disease outbreaks, says Alexey Solodovnikov, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who runs the rove beetle-dedicated Solodovnikov Lab and is a curator at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
Horizon spoke to virologist Johan Neyts.
Dr Alexey Solodovnikov on why we need a less biased view of the animal kingdom.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.