Editor's Choice Technology

2021: Technology Roads

Exascale computers are deployed
An exaFLOP is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a million trillion, or one quintillion) floating point operations per second. The world’s best supercomputers are now reaching this rate, which is a 1,000-fold improvement over a petaFLOP machine.

The development of computing power had followed an exponential fashion for several years. But a downturn in the rate of progress has been detected during the second half of the 2010s. It had previously been predicted that exaFLOP machines could arrive at the end of the decade, but this schedule seemed to slide as technical and funding problems were struck.

IBM unveiled”Summit” — featuring a peak performance of 200 petaFLOPS — that became the world’s fastest supercomputer in June 2018, a name it would keep into 2019 and 2020. Many challengers were waiting in the wings, including three exaFLOP machines being developed by China, three from the USA and others from the European Union, India, Japan and Taiwan. These would be deployed throughout the early and mid-2020s.

China was the first country to attain a”summit” exaFLOP machine, but there were continuing delays in attaining a continuing exaFLOP performance. By 2021, this is finally shown, using chips designed and manufactured domestically. One of the new machines is Tianhe-3, successor to the Tianhe-2. After China, the upcoming countries to demonstrate that a sustained exaFLOP operation are the United States and Japan.

Exascale computing contributes to revolutionary advances in numerous fields — permitting simulations of scale, complexity and length than ever before. Neuroscience is one area of particular note, as it will become possible to simulate the whole human brain in real time, down to the level of individual neurons. Subsequent upgrades to existing machines, along with completely new machines, enable additional orders of magnitude gains in functionality and pave the way to zettaFLOP supercomputers in the 2030s.

The ExoMars rover touches down on Mars
ExoMars is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Divided into two parts, the first stage of the mission was launched in 2016, coming nine months later. This consisted of an orbiter — ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter — for mapping resources of methane and other gases on Mars, to ascertain the best place for a rover to study. Additionally, it contained a static presentation module to demonstrate the landing site was viable.

The next stage is launched in 2020, coming in 2021 with the ExoMars rover built by ESA. This lands on Mars with a”sky crane” system, where four rockets slow the descent after the main parachute was deployed. The landing site is near the equator to increase available solar power.

The rover’s primary aim is to ascertain any signs of microbial life on Mars, past or present. It’s equipped with a drill which bores down two metres beneath the surface to recover samples. These are moved to a tiny laboratory within the rover. This contains a detector for biological molecules, infrared and X-ray spectroscopes that catalog the mineralogical makeup of the sample, together with imaging devices.

Found in the drill arrangement is just another infrared spectrometer that studies the interior surface of the bore hole. ExoMars utilizes ground-penetrating radar to look for ideal locations where to drill. The assignment is almost entirely automated, since the rover uses imaging cameras to make a 3D map of the terrain to be able to avoid obstacles. It has a lifespan of six months, travelling roughly 100 metres every day and testing dozens of different samples.

The spacecraft was scheduled to launch in 2018 and land on Mars in ancient 2019, but because of delays in Russian and European industrial activities and deliveries of the scientific payload, it had been moved to the launching window in July 2020. With a travel time of nine months, it arrives in March 2021.

Flight of the New Glenn Rocket
astronaut, John Glenn) is a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle developed by Blue Origin, the aerospace firm founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. The booster stage is designed to be reusable, cutting launch costs and making it a rival to SpaceX.

Formerly, Blue Origin had developed the New Shepard — a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL), crew-capable rocket. Prototype testing in 2006, followed by full-scale engine development from the early 2010s, resulted in a first flight in 2015. Reaching an altitude of 93 kilometers (58 miles), this uncrewed demonstration was deemed somewhat effective, as the onboard capsule was recovered through parachute landing, while the booster phase crashed, and not recovered.

By 2019, a further 11 test flights had taken place, all successfully landing and recovering the booster phase. The New Shepard, with a height of 18 m (59 feet ) and only a very small payload, dropped into the sub-orbital class of rockets. By comparison, its successor would be more than five times as tall on the launching platform.

New Glenn, standing 95 m (313 feet ), dwarfed the earlier New Shepard and has been designed to carry 45,000 kg (99,000 pound ) into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 13,000 kg (29,000 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Blue Origin started working on the New Glenn in 2012, and publicly disclosed its design and specifications in 2016.

The vehicle, called a two-stage rocket with a diameter of 7 m (23 feet ), could be powered by seven BE-4 motors (equal to 21 Boeing 747s). Bezos now reportedly sold $1 billion worth of stock annually — a figure that doubled by the end of the decade — to be able to finance Blue Origin. By 2019, Blue Origin had gained five clients for New Glenn flights, including a multi-launch contract with Telesat for its broadband constellation.