China’s economy surpasses that of the U.S.
In 2028, China overtakes the United States in gross domestic product (GDP) and becomes the world’s largest economy. This milestone has occurred earlier than some expected, due in part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus responsible for COVID-19 had first been identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It spread rapidly, helped by the Chinese New Year migration and Wuhan being a transport hub and major rail interchange. With cases growing exponentially, major disruption began to emerge in early 2020 and many Chinese cities went into lockdown. As the virus spread to other countries, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January and a pandemic in March 2020.
Initially, COVID-19 had been a major crisis for China. However, its authoritarian government imposed strict measures throughout the country, allowing it to bring the outbreak under control by the second quarter of 2020. While many berated the Chinese government for its delayed response and censorship of related information during the opening stages of the outbreak, few would doubt the success of China in essentially defeating the virus.
By contrast, most other countries around the world had lengthy and catastrophic experiences with COVID-19, wreaking severe economic damage. The U.S. recorded its millionth case by April 2020 and this had mushroomed to over 23 million by January 2021, with nearly 400,000 deaths, the most of any country. Although vaccines began to emerge, partisan divides regarding the outbreak and a laxer approach to preventing infections meant that the crisis would persist for many months to come.
The U.S. and other major economies had negative growth for the year, while China achieved positive GDP growth of 2% in 2020. China’s 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25) involved a “dual circulation” strategy, with plans for both external and domestic demand working together. This had been implemented partly in response to trade disputes with the U.S. and elsewhere, and partly due to expectation that external demand would be depressed by the pandemic and that China needed internal demand to sustain growth.
President Xi stated his aim as being to “fully bring out the advantage of its (China’s) super-large market scale and the potential of domestic demand to establish a new development pattern featuring domestic and international circulations that complement each other.”
With skilful management of the pandemic and damage to long-term growth in the West, the relative economic performance of China exceeded many analysts’ earlier forecasts. China saw average economic growth of more than 5.5% a year during this time. By the end of its 14th Plan period in 2025, it had comfortably met the threshold for a high-income economy, defined by the World Bank as a gross national income per capita of US$12,536 or more.
Although its growth has slowed to 4.5% a year during the second half of the 2020s, China’s GDP is overtaking the U.S. by 2028.** It continues to widen the gap between itself and the U.S. during the early 2030s, though at a slower rate of less than 4% a year. Longer-term demographic and other problems in China enable the U.S. to regain its position as the world’s largest economy by the end of the century.
Completion of the Deep Space Gateway
The Deep Space Gateway (DSG) is the successor to the International Space Station (ISS). Whereas the ISS was placed in orbit around the Earth, the DSG is close to the Moon. The partners involved in its construction are the same as for the ISS: the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and Roscosmos.
The Gateway is developed, utilised and maintained in collaboration with commercial and international partners as a staging ground for lunar surface missions (both robotic and crewed) and for eventual travel to Mars. By sending people and cargo to and from cislunar space, those involved in the project gain the knowledge and experience necessary to venture beyond the Moon and into deep space.
Originally, NASA had intended to build the Gateway as part of an “Asteroid Redirect Mission”, but this was cancelled. An informal joint statement on cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos was announced in September 2017. This was followed in November 2017 by NASA commissioning studies by private companies into affordable ways to develop the station’s power and propulsion elements – these private companies were Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada and Space Systems/Loral.
The DSG would be built in stages, with each part delivered by the Space Launch System (SLS), a huge new rocket being developed by NASA. The first test launch of the SLS was in 2021, which sent a crewless Orion capsule around the Moon, while also deploying CubeSats. Additional SLS launches would carry the first pieces of the Deep Space Gateway.*
The main construction phase of the DSG, spread over five years, involved the delivery of four components. These were as follows:
• 40 kilowatt (kW) power/propulsion bus – to generate electricity for the station and ion propulsion
• Habitation module – living quarters for astronauts
• Logistics module – for experiments and logistics on board the station, including a robotic arm built by the CSA
• Airlock – for performing extravehicular activities outside the station and serving as a berth for another craft, the Deep Space Transport
The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (shown in grey, below) would be capable of transporting up to four astronauts and docking with the DSG. A robotic arm would assist the astronauts in configuring the structure.
Adapted from “Progress in Defining the Deep Space Gateway and Transport Plan“, based on latest known schedule(s).
Following this construction, the Deep Space Gateway moves to Phase 2. It becomes a staging point for the Deep Space Transport (DST), a reusable vehicle specifically designed for crewed missions to more remote destinations, such as Mars. The DST can dock with the DSG and is assembled there by a further series of SLS launches – beginning in the late 2020s and continuing into the 2030s.
The DST has a larger capacity than the DSG, able to carry six astronauts on extended voyages, using both electric and chemical propulsion. It is returned to the DSG after each mission to be serviced and reused for a new mission.
Overall, the Deep Space Gateway lives up to its name as a “gateway” to places beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO) and is arguably the logical next step for human exploration of space. As well as facilitating crewed missions to Mars, it can also be used as a platform for regular visits to the lunar surface and functions as a relay between the Earth and Moon. It also serves as a blueprint for additional future stations, both government and privately-operated.
Launch of the European ATHENA X-ray observatory
The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA) is a major new X-ray telescope launched by the European Space Agency.** This L-class (Large) project is the second of three missions in the “Cosmic Vision” programme which includes two other spacecraft – the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) launched in 2022 and a gravitational wave observatory being deployed in 2034.
X-ray observations are crucial for understanding the structure and evolution of stars, galaxies and the Universe as a whole. These images can reveal “hot spots” in the Universe – regions where particles have been energised or raised to very high temperatures by strong magnetic fields, violent explosions, and intense gravitational forces. X-ray sources are also associated with the different phases of stellar evolution such as supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes.
ATHENA is designed to answer a number of important questions in astrophysics:
• What happens close to a black hole?
• How did supermassive black holes grow?
• How do large-scale structures (i.e. galaxy clusters and superclusters) form?
• What is the connection between these processes?
To address these questions, it can trace orbits close to the event horizon of black holes, measure black hole spin for several hundred active galactic nuclei (AGN), use spectroscopy to characterise the outflows and environments of AGN at their peak activity, look for supermassive black holes out to redshift z = 10, map the bulk motions and turbulence in galaxy clusters, find missing baryons in the cosmic web using background quasars, and observe the process of cosmic feedback where black holes inject energy on galactic and intergalactic scales.
This enables astronomers to understand better the history and evolution of matter and energy – visible and dark – as well as their interplay during the formation of the largest structures in the Universe. Closer to home, observations constrain the equation of state in neutron stars, black hole spin demographics, when and how elements were created and dispersed into the intergalactic medium, and much more.
To achieve these goals, ATHENA requires a collecting area of 3 square metres with 5 arcsec angular resolution and 12 metre focal length, for unmatched sensitivities. Relative to previous X-ray missions, it offers a 100-fold increase in the area for high resolution spectroscopy, deep spectral and microsecond spectroscopic timing with high count rate capability. It also features a large shield that blocks light from the Sun, Earth and Moon, which otherwise would heat up the telescope and interfere with observations. The telescope remains operational until the late 2030s.
China builds the world’s largest particle accelerator
Following the success of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe,* the Chinese decided to build their own larger particle accelerator. Researchers at the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing announced plans for a machine 52 km (32.5 mi) in length – twice the circumference of the LHC. This would allow the Higgs boson to be studied in greater detail, revealing new insights into the fundamental structure of matter and confirming whether multiple types of Higgs boson existed. Construction began in 2019, with completion in 2028.* It paves the way for an even larger project in 2035.**
electronics are ubiquitous
printed electronics market has seen exponential growth. By now, it has
ballooned to over $300 bn globally.* This technology
began with a small number of niche, high-end products. It expanded rapidly
in the 2010s, thanks to plummeting costs and improved production methods.
By the 2020s it had exploded into the mainstream – creating a new generation of ultra-thin electronics.
these have such low fabrication costs that they are ubiquitous in countless everyday business and consumer applications.* Many
previously bulky or heavy devices can now be folded, stored or carried
as easily as sheets of paper. This includes flexible TV displays that
can be rolled or hung like posters. Also widespread are electronic
newspapers with moving pictures, “smart”
packaging and labels with animated text, along with signage in retail outlets that
can be updated shop-wide at the touch of a button.*
players with expandable, fold-out touchscreens are especially popular.
Even low-end models are now the size and weight of credit cards and
can easily fit inside a wallet. With petabytes of storage, gigapixels
of screen resolution and superfast transfer speeds, they are orders
of magnitude more powerful than iPods of the previous decade. They are also
completely wireless – no cables or physical connections of any kind
are required, with music being enjoyed using wireless earphones.
Credit: University of Cincinnati
population reaches 70 million
will soon become the most populous country in Europe, overtaking both
Germany and France. This is mainly due to large numbers of immigrants.
Combined with a shrinking labour force, this is putting a major strain on public services – especially in London, which has born the
brunt of the increase.
Source: Office for National Statistics
British newspapers are going out of circulation
By the late 2020s, the last of Britain’s national newspapers are being taken out of circulation.* Even once formerly major titles like the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror have ceased production. The surviving newspapers have now all transitioned to entirely digital formats.
The printing industry had a long history in Britain. The first printing press was invented by William Caxton in 1476. This led to further developments in mechanical movable type and a huge increase of printing activities over subsequent centuries. During the 1600s, various publications would spread both news and rumours – such as pamphlets, posters and ballads. The English Civil War (1642–1651) greatly increased the demand for news.
Among the first real “newspapers” were the Oxford Gazette (1665), Berrow’s Worcester Journal (1690) and Daily Courant (1702). By the 1720s, there were 12 London newspapers and 24 provincial papers. The first English journalist to achieve national importance was Daniel Defoe (1660–1731). During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution allowed production methods to be improved, print runs to be greatly increased and newspapers to be sold at lower cost. Circulation of The Times rose from 5,000 copies in 1815 to 10,000 in 1834 and 40,000 by 1851; about 80% of the entire market.
The period from 1860 to 1910 was considered a “golden age” of newspaper publication, with further technical advances in printing and communication – combined with a more professional style of journalism and the prominence of new owners. Socialist, labour and trade union papers began to proliferate. In 1896, The Daily Mail was first published and became the first daily newspaper aimed at the newly literate “lower-middle class market resulting from mass education, combining a low retail price with plenty of competitions, prizes and promotional gimmicks.” It was the first British paper to sell a million copies a day. Two other “halfpenny” papers to emerge included the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror. By the 1930s, over two-thirds of the population was estimated to read a newspaper every day, with almost everyone taking one on Sundays.
Circulations continued to increase, reaching a peak in the mid-20th century. From the 1960s onwards, however, sales began to decline. In an effort to attract more readers, some tabloids – including The Sun, the Daily Mirror and Daily Star – began publishing images of topless women. The 1980s saw the introduction of computer-based typesetting and full-colour offset printing. The reporting of stories became ever more sensationalised and controversial as the fall in sales continued through the 1990s and into the 21st century.
The rapid rise of the Internet – providing instant and free access to information – accelerated the decline of the newspaper industry. A major factor was the emergence of smartphones, tablets and other handheld, web-enabled devices, becoming cheap and widely available. By 2015, none of the remaining UK papers had a daily circulation above two million. The overall circulation of newspapers declined by 6.6% in 2014–15, with further declines in the following decade, resulting in the end of printed national newspapers in Britain.
Launch of the Comet Interceptor
Comet Interceptor is a mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) to rendezvous with a comet originating from the outer Solar System that has now begun to approach the Sun. This follows a similar effort – Rosetta – that visited 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. However, unlike that earlier probe, this new craft is designed to encounter a “pristine” comet with largely undisturbed material surviving from the dawn of the Solar System. The targeted body is therefore an ‘Oumuamua-like interstellar object, or possible fragment from the Oort cloud, approaching the inner Solar System for the first time, as opposed to a short-period comet like 67P that orbits the Sun every six years.
The mission is unusual, in that it launches before a primary target has even been found. For a dynamically-new comet (DNC) or interstellar object, the time between discovery, perihelion and departure from the inner Solar System – typically a few months to a year – is too short for mission organisers to prepare and launch a new spacecraft. As such, these astronomical objects can only be encountered after being discovered inbound, with enough warning to direct an already operating spacecraft to approach. However, new observatories, such as the recently completed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, are now improving this time by covering large areas of sky more deeply and rapidly.
The spacecraft is separated delivered to Lagrange point L2 via its own propulsion system. Comet Interceptor consists of a mothership and two smaller “daughters”, which perform simultaneous observations from multiple angles to generate a 3D profile. The daughter probes carry instruments on different trajectories through the comet’s tail, while also getting close to the nucleus. Together, all three spacecraft greatly improve the understanding of pristine comets and their surrounding environment, revealing their structures and compositions in more detail and their dynamic nature as they interact with the solar wind. This, in turn, provides new insights into the conditions that existed at the birth of the Solar System and perhaps even further back in time.*
Credit: Brooks Bays / SOEST Publication Services / University of Hawaii
Delhi becomes the most populous city in the world
By 2028, Delhi has overtaken Tokyo to become the most populous city in the world. The Japanese capital had held the title since 1955, but during the early years of the 21st century it began to reach a plateau. After peaking at 37 million, the city actually went into decline from 2020 onwards. The Indian capital, by contrast, was surging ahead. Home to some 29 million people in 2018, Delhi expanded to reach 37.2 million just a decade later.** India as a whole has recently surpassed China to become the most populous country on the planet.
There are many challenges associated with rapidly growing urban areas, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. These include the provision of adequate housing, transportation, water, waste management and sanitation, energy and other vital infrastructure, as well as employment and basic services such as education and health care. However, India’s workforce is young and dynamic; its economy is expanding fast and on course to rival the other major superpowers by 2040.
One surprising area in which Delhi will soon benefit is the environment. For many years, the World Health Organization had ranked Delhi as the most polluted city on Earth. In the 2010s, poor air quality was causing 2.3 million deaths in India each year – almost the same as from tobacco use – costing 3% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, towards the end of the 2020s, traditional petrol and diesel cars are being phased out, in favour of electric vehicles.* Widespread use of solar and other renewables is also making a difference now, with almost 60% of India’s electricity being generated from non-fossil fuels.*
Furthermore, as part of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, India had pledged $6.2 billion to reforest 235 million acres (95 million hectares) of the country by 2030.* This vast project will soon increase India’s forest cover from 21% of total land area to 33%.
Credit: Sean Hsu
Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympic Games
From 21st July to 6th August 2028, the 34th Summer Olympics are held in Los Angeles, California.* This event is the fifth Summer Games to be hosted in the United States, and the third in Los Angeles – following St. Louis 1904, Los Angeles 1932, Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996. Los Angeles also becomes the third city after London (1908, 1948 and 2012) and Paris (1900, 1924 and 2024) to have hosted the Olympic Games on three occasions.
The 2028 Games are spread across four areas, each highlighting the different geographical features of the city: Long Beach, South Bay, Downtown and Valley Sports Park.* Travel between venues is made easy thanks to L.A.’s extensive system of highways and public transport, with many improvements and upgrades having been made since the 1984 Games. By 2028, $88bn worth of expanded subway, light rail, rapid bus transit, and express lane projects are operational, connecting all sports parks, the airport, the Games Centre, and every corner of L.A.
The Olympic and Paralympic Village is based at the centrally-located UCLA campus, close to the city’s cultural and entertainment attractions. All Olympic and Paralympic sports parks are within 40 minutes of the Village.
The opening and closing ceremonies are each, for the first time, staged across two different stadiums. The opening ceremony starts at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and finishes at the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park (the latter forming part of a major new sports, entertainment, hotel and business district). The order is reversed for the closing ceremony.
While most Olympic host cities have seven years to prepare, Los Angeles was given an additional four, for a total of 11 years. This was due to the unusual bidding process in 2017, which saw Paris and Los Angeles elected simultaneously for 2024 and 2028, respectively.*
Total solar eclipse in Australia and New Zealand
A total solar eclipse occurs on 22nd July 2028.** Totality occurs in a narrow path across the Earth’s surface, with a partial solar eclipse visible over a surrounding region thousands of kilometres wide. The central line of the path crosses the Australian continent from the Kimberley region in the northwest and continues in a southeasterly direction through Western Australia, the Northern Territory, southwest Queensland and New South Wales, close to the towns of Wyndham, Kununurra, Tennant Creek, Birdsville, Bourke and Dubbo. It continues on through the centre of Sydney, where the eclipse has a duration of over three minutes. It also crosses Dunedin, New Zealand.
Resurrection of several extinct species has been achieved
In 2009, the Pyrenean Ibex became the first animal to ever be made “un-extinct”, for seven minutes, when a cloned female was born alive before dying from lung defects.* This was eventually followed by a woolly mammoth, using tissue samples from ancient permafrost.* By the late 2020s,* a number of other species have been resurrected (with varying degrees of success) including the famous dodo – last observed in 1662 – and the wild pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, which went from being one of the world’s most common birds during the 19th century, to extinction in the early 20th.
Three different approaches have been taken to restore lost animals and plants:
- Cloning, in which genetic material is extracted from preserved tissue to create an exact modern copy.
- Selective breeding, where a closely-related modern species is given characteristics of the extinct relative.
- Genetic engineering, where DNA of a modern species is edited until it closely matches the extinct species.
Ethical and legal issues are now emerging, however, such as the effect of these “alien” species on modern ecosystems and the possibility of diseases. With genetics advancing at such a rapid rate, even hominids like neanderthals could potentially be brought back. Further into the future, de-extinction of lost species will become a vital part of restoring the Earth’s biosphere, as a global rewilding effort takes shape.
International Space Station is decommissioned
International Space Station was constructed from 1998 to 2014. Its operational
lifetime was originally planned to be until 2020, but with extra funding
was extended to 2028.* This date was chosen to mark the 30th anniversary
of the first Russian component to be launched. Like its
predecessor, Mir, it is ditched in the Pacific Ocean. Some modules
of the Russian Orbital Segment are salvaged before the de-orbiting takes
Deep Space Gateway, a station in orbit around the Moon.
The final Avatar movie is released
After the success of his 1997 movie, Titanic, director James Cameron began a project that took almost 10 years to make: his science-fiction epic Avatar (2009). This was a landmark for 3D technology and CGI, with numerous accolades – winning Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, and nominated for a total of nine, including Best Picture and Best Director. It also won the 67th Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director, and was nominated for two others. At the 36th Saturn Awards, Avatar won all ten awards it was nominated for.
Numerous other awards, nominations and honours were received. With a worldwide box-office gross of more than $2.7 billion, Avatar became the highest grossing film of all time – surpassing Cameron’s previous blockbuster, Titanic ($2.2 billion).
Two sequels to Avatar were initially confirmed after the success of the first film. This number was subsequently expanded to four, with Cameron said to be directing, producing and co-writing all of them. Many of the stars from the original film would reprise their roles – including Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, C. C. H. Pounder and Joel David Moore. Despite the deaths of their characters in the original film, Stephen Lang and Matt Gerald would also make an appearance. Sigourney Weaver was confirmed too, although playing a different character.
New cast members included Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis, portraying Na’vi “reef people”, along with Oona Chaplin as Varang, described as a “strong and vibrant central character who spans the entire saga of the sequels”. A number of child actors would also portray “free-divers” and become pivotal new characters through the sequels.
The second Avatar movie, being set in marine environments, would feature heavy use of underwater scenes, actually filmed underwater with the cast in performance capture. Blending underwater filming and performance capture was a feature never accomplished before,* requiring a year and a half to develop a new motion capture system. The film would also be shown in “glasses-free 3D”, another first in film history.
Following acquisition by Disney, these sequels were pushed back. The COVID-19 crisis caused yet further delays in production. Avatar 2 would be shifted to December 2022 (from its original December 2020 date) followed by Avatar 3 in December 2024 and Avatar 4 in December 2026. The science fiction epic reaches its conclusion with a fifth and final film released in December 2028* (three years later than its original planned date). Computing power is orders of magnitude more advanced than in 2009, making the visual effects in these subsequent films even more spectacular and impressive than the original, setting a new benchmark for CGI in movies.