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LauncherOne reaches orbit and a new maglev concept: 10 top stories of the week

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Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne is released in mid-air during an earlier drop test (Credit: Virgin Orbit/ Greg Robinson)
Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne is released in mid-air during an earlier drop test (Credit: Virgin Orbit/ Greg Robinson)

Nissan Sunderland plant ‘secure for the long term’


Nissan’s Sunderland plant, which employs 6,000 people and supports almost 70,000 jobs in the supply chain, is ‘secure for the long term’ following the UK-EU trade deal, the manufacturer has told the BBC. The Japanese firm also said it will move additional battery production close to the plant.

StoreDot releases 5-minute charge EV batteries

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Range anxiety amongst potential electric vehicle (EV) buyers could soon be ‘eliminated’ thanks to the commercial launch of the first ever five-minute charge lithium-ion battery, its developer has said. Israeli firm StoreDot announced the availability of its first-generation battery samples this week. The firm replaced graphite in the cell’s anode with metalloid nanoparticles.

Virgin’s LauncherOne reaches orbit

New Atlas

Virgin Orbit’s air-launched LauncherOne rocket reached orbit after being dropped by the Cosmic Girl mothership. The craft delivered 10 NASA Cubesats to low Earth orbit in the flight, which followed a previous unsuccessful launch attempt in May 2020.

Chinese team unveils new maglev prototype


A team of researchers has unveiled a prototype for a new maglev train in China. The project, led by Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, incorporates new technology including ‘high temperature’ superconducting with liquid nitrogen and a full carbon fibre body.

UK and Japan tackle legacy of Fukushima and Sellafield with robotics collaboration

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Dangerous radioactive material from Fukushima and Sellafield will be retrieved by robots thanks to a new collaboration between the UK and Japan. The four-year research collaboration will use long-reach robotic arms to make decommissioning faster and safer at Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan and at Sellafield in the UK. The £12m LongOps project is also aimed at automating aspects of nuclear fusion energy production, alongside decommissioning goals.

Solar energy deployment jumps by 27% in 2020

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Solar energy capacity in the UK grew by 525MW in 2020, despite the huge twin challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of subsidies. The ‘major growth’ was a 27% year-on-year increase compared with 2019, said Solar Energy UK and Solar Media, which carried out the new analysis. Of the new capacity, 60% came from ground-mounted photovoltaic systems.

Magnesium alloy stent could biodegrade within the body

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A biodegradable stent developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh could offer a safer and less invasive alternative to conventional stents. The balloon-expandable ultra-high ductility (UHD) biodegradable magnesium stent was shown to perform better than current metallic non-biodegradable stents in both lab testing and rabbit models. It degraded over eight weeks.

Airspace of the Future aims to transform UK transport with drones

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Widespread use of drones and other electric aircraft for freight and mobility could reduce road congestion and help cut aviation’s environmental impact, a new industry body has claimed. Nine organisations from UK industry and academia have come together to form the Airspace of the Future (AoF) consortium. The group, which will work to integrate drone services into the transport system, includes Thales, Cranfield University and the Connected Places Catapult.

Treatment could destroy microplastics before they contaminate environment

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Microplastic particles in wastewater, which can contaminate and pollute the environment, could be destroyed at source thanks to a new treatment. A research team from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) in Canada developed the electrolytic treatment, which degraded 89% of polystyrene in water in laboratory tests.

Autonomous ‘security pod’ will have tethered drone for bird’s eye view

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An autonomous ‘security pod’ patrolling a 5G test site around a football stadium will have a tethered drone streaming live CCTV over the network. The unique vehicle combination will operate at the £4m MK 5G Create project in Milton Keynes.

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