A round-up of this month's engineering news from around the world with a regional focus on the USA.
Europe’s future Martian rover ExoMars has been tested in Mars-like conditions in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Engineers based at ESA’s Harwell Centre in the UK steered the six-wheeled rover across several thousand kilometres, simulating the conditions the rover will operate in on the Red Planet. The tests included verification of the rover’s instruments such as a 3D stereo imaging panoramic camera and a ground-penetrating radar to probe subsurface geology.
Belgium has asked the UK to address claims that its electronic surveillance agency GCHQ hacked the IT network of Belgian telecoms provider Belgacom, using it to spy on voice traffic in Africa and the Middle East, where Belgacom operates. German magazine Der Spiegel had suggested previously that GCHQ had placed a virus in Belgacom’s network.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said work on the Prirazlomnoye Arctic oil project is on track to begin production this year despite protests from environmental campaigners. Russia has charged 29 Greenpeace activists and one journalist with piracy, following an attempt to scale the controversial oil rig, located in the Pechora Sea.
Operators of the Swedish Oskarshamn nuclear power plant were forced to close one of the plant’s reactors due to an enormous cluster of jellyfish clogging the pipes of the cooling system. This is not the first time jellyfish have forced a power plant to close down, a problem marine biologists believe might become more frequent with the current direction of climate change.
UK’s tokamak MAST in the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy has created its last plasma before a major upgrade requiring an 18-month shutdown. The upgrade will turn the spherical tokamak into a cutting-edge device for fusion energy research, paving the way for a future experimental nuclear-fusion power plant and improving the knowledge base needed for the construction of ITER.
Salvage crews successfully raised the crippled cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Italian island of Giglio. The 19-hour operation, one of the most difficult and expensive wreck-recovery projects ever performed, saw the 114,500-tonne ship pulled upright by a series of huge jacks and cables and left resting in 30m of water on underwater platforms drilled into the seabed.
Some Iranians were able to access their Facebook and Twitter accounts for the first time in four years due to a glitch in the government’s firewall. Social media has been banned in Iran since 2009 when it was used to organise protests against the government, but technical difficulties with some Iranian Internet service providers allowed access for a short period.
Eiji Toyoda, a member of Toyota’s founding family who helped create the super-efficient ‘Toyota Way’ production method, has died aged 100. He was instrumental in developing what became the automaker’s much-imitated just-in-time production method to cut waste and empower workers for continuous improvement or ‘kaizen’.
South Korea’s government voted down a bid by Boeing to supply 60 warplanes, saying it wants a more advanced, radar-evading fighter. Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle, the only bid within budget, had been poised to win the 8.3 trillion won (£4.8bn) tender, but former military top brass and ruling party lawmakers criticised the plane for lacking stealth capabilities.
France’s President Francois Hollande outlined a ten-year roadmap to revive French industry that will see the French state acting as a coordinator and trying to induce growth in 34 key areas including driverless cars, electric planes and a new generation of high-speed trains, while most of the investment is expected to come from private sources.