Ben Morris Enterprise Technology Writer
At 1:30 a.m. 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 quite a stir in the world of physics and other fields.
The laser beam aimed an energy capsule the size of a black peppercorn, and the resulting temperatures and pressures triggered nuclear fusion — the same type of reaction that occurs inside the sun.
The National Ignition Facility, which specializes in laser research, had previously conducted similar experiments, but this time the energy generated by the reaction was greater than the power of the laser used to generate it.
It was a historic moment for nuclear fusion researchers, and while fusion reactors still have a long way to go before they can produce usable electricity, experience shows that it can.
“We have taken the first experimental steps toward a clean energy source that has the potential to revolutionize the world,” said Kim Bodell, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The potential for a successful nuclear fusion reactor is overwhelming. This reactor will require a small amount of fuel, produce no greenhouse gas emissions, and emit a very small amount of nuclear waste, which is the waste that makes existing nuclear reactors undesirable.
The success of the NII experiment will motivate the many private companies hoping to one day build a fusion reactor. A private British company hopes to make significant progress in 2023.
Based near Oxford, First Light Fusion is innovatively enabling nuclear fusion.
The company conducts experiments in which it shoots a small aluminum disc at a speed of 20 kilometers per second at a specially designed target containing the fuel needed for fusion.
Once collision occurs, the target shatters, creating massive blast waves that can trigger a fusion response.
Earlier this year, at a moment considered very significant 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 much larger than its current reactor that it hopes will also break the magical barrier of nuclear fusion — producing more energy than is fed to him.
First Light is battling dozens of other companies pursuing nuclear fusion, but the founder is confident his company is headed in the right direction.
“I think 2023 will be the year where we make a big strategic shift,” said Nick Hooker, founder of First Light Fusion.
“We will move from what is already a very large and complex experiment to progress 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 for the country to have a working reactor by the early 2030s.
What does the future of aviation look like?
Imagine an airplane that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but without the noise, high costs and pollutant emissions. This is the vision of companies developing what is known as an eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle).
Dozens of companies around the world are betting there is a market for these aircraft, which are designed for short-haul routes and can carry a handful of passengers.
These companies claim that eVTOLs have the potential to reduce flight costs because their electric engines are cheaper to run and maintain than helicopter engines.
In addition, these companies add that these planes are quieter and emit no polluting emissions.
One company hoping to become a player in these industries is Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace.
Its VX4 made its debut earlier this year. During the maiden flight, the aircraft was only 10 minutes on the ground and in the air.
But real progress will come in 2023 with a series of test flights. The aircraft will transition from vertical takeoff to forward flight, flying at higher altitudes and speeds.
The goal is to get approval for the VX4 so that it can carry passengers by 2025.
Vertical Aerospace competes with other companies developing electric vehicle technology for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), which will also test their aircraft.
Germany-based Volocopter plans to conduct public test flights of its VoloCity aircraft next year. She hopes to license her device in 2024 and then launch services in Singapore, Paris and Rome.
Also next year, Lilium intends to produce its first VTOL aircraft. The Germany-based company has tested five prototypes of the aircraft since 2017.
Instead of propellers like Vertical Aerospace and Volocopters, Lilliam uses 30 symmetrically positioned electric jet motors to help the aircraft transition from vertical takeoff to level flight.
The biggest obstacle to these projects is obtaining approvals from aviation authorities – a lengthy and tedious process that can take years.
Have we said goodbye to the problem of missing coverage?
Even in rich countries, there are areas where it is impossible for people to get a strong signal for their mobile phones.
Add to that the billions of people in poorer countries and remote areas of the world who don’t have signal coverage and you have a huge untapped market.
AST SpaceMobile, a Texas-based company, intends to fill a gap in the cell phone market.
The company, which is backed by big names in the mobile industry – including AT&T and Vodafone – is developing technology that would allow a cellphone to connect directly to a satellite to make calls or share data at 5G speeds.
The company currently has one experimental satellite in low-Earth orbit, but plans to launch five more satellites in 2023.
These satellites will be able to provide intermittent coverage, and the company plans to provide continuous coverage worldwide when it launches 100 satellites. around the world – possibly in 2024.
AST will not sell its services directly to customers but will work 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 its easy, one-phone coverage and reasonable price point will be a big draw.
“Coverage gaps are a reality and a problem,” says Scott Wisniewski, a director of the company.
“So it’s a very attractive solution and a very big market. That’s why we got a lot of support from carriers.”