March/April

The 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2020

Our annual list of technologies that will have a major impact on the world.

Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) docked successfully with Intelsat’s-901 communications satellite in orbit on Tuesday, the first time two commercial satellites have ever docked...

What are these two satellites: The 19-year-old Intelsat-901 had recently been moved into a “graveyard orbit” 186 miles higher than geostationary orbit, away from active satellites. This wasn’t because Intelsat-901 wasn’t working properly anymore, but because it was critically low on fuel, which meant Intelsat would soon lose the ability to control it. 

MEV-1 is part of Northrop Grumman’s new satellite servicing program. It’s designed to dock with other satellites running low on fuel, and use its own thrusters and fuel to take over navigation and maneuvering processes, extending mission lifespans for at least a few years. 

A boon for satellite servicing: Many companies are pursuing different satellite servicing approaches to repair broken assets, extend satellite lifespans, and remove objects from orbits where they could threaten to crash into active satellites. MEVs are usually designed to service satellites in geostationary orbit for 15 years, but other companies like Astroscale are pursuing orbital debris removal in low-Earth orbit, using magnetic plates to latch onto other objects and drag them down into Earth’s atmosphere for incineration. 

Next steps: In March, MEV-1 will use its thrusters to move Intelsat-901 out of graveyard orbit and back into geostationary orbit, where the latter can resume normal operations. The, after five years, MEV-1 will return Intelsat 901 to the graveyard, and potentially rendezvous with another satellite in need of a life extension. Northrop Grumman will launch MEV-2 later this year to service another Intelsat satellite. The company is also working on a fleet of mission-extension “pods” that could provide smaller satellite servicing needs to assets in orbit. 

Expand

The news: A patient in the US with no history of travel to outbreak hot spots or exposure to someone with coronavirus has been diagnosed with the disease, likely marking the first case of “community...

The case: The patient was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California, on February 19 from another hospital, but the virus wasn’t diagnosed until four days later. UC Davis had to call in the CDC to do the tests since it lacked the capability, hence the delay. In a statement, the hospital said it had put the patient under “strict contact precautions” and believed there “has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center.” However, it said a small number of employees have been asked to stay home and monitor their temperature.

A national response: President Trump announced yesterday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead domestic efforts to combat the disease. His administration has requested $1.25 billion in emergency funding from Congress.

Complicating efforts: We know that coronavirus is very contagious, but we are still learning how it passes from person to person. This new “community spread” case reveals gaps in testing capability in the US that could hamper efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Currently, only the CDC and a few local public health agencies have the ability to administer the tests.

The overall picture: At the time of writing, there are 60 confirmed cases of patients infected with coronavirus in the US, 43 of whom were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Globally, there are nearly 83,000 confirmed cases and over 2,800 deaths as a result of the virus. The vast majority are still in China, although the spread of coronavirus to other countries, including Iran, Italy, and South Korea, has accelerated in recent days.  

Read Next: What are the most promising potential coronavirus treatments?

Sign up here to our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech. 

Expand

EmTech Digital 2020

Building AI you can trust

At MIT Technology Review's AI conference, come find ideas, inspiration, and practical guidance on deploying AI in organizations in 2020.