Sci­en­tists de­velop multi-task high-fly­ing air­ships

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI in Bei­jing zhaolei@chi­

Chi­nese sci­en­tists are de­vel­op­ing a fam­ily of high al­ti­tude air­ships that can help with Earth ob­ser­va­tion, mar­itime mon­i­tor­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sig­nal re­lays.

Re­searchers at the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences are work­ing on the strato­spheric air­ships, so-called be­cause they are ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing long-term op­er­a­tions in the strato­sphere — the sec­ond ma­jor layer of Earth’s at­mos­phere at an al­ti­tude of 20 to 50 km.

Ac­cord­ing to the academy’s devel­op­ment plan for the 13th Five-Year Plan pe­riod (2016-2020), which lists 140 re­search and devel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties, re­searchers are to de­velop key tech­nolo­gies and tech­niques for con­trol­lable strato­spheric air­ships and per­form flight tests be­fore the end of 2020.

“Our strato­spheric air­ships will come in var­i­ous sizes, and we have test-flown two of them al­ready,” said Wang Yuechao, di­rec­tor of the academy’s Bureau of Ma­jor Re­search and Devel­op­ment Pro­grams.

“The lat­est test took place in Au­gust, when we flew an air­ship and achieved our goals.”

He said that al­most all of the world’s ma­jor pow­ers are ex­plor­ing high-al­ti­tude aero­space craft, with China among the top play­ers in the field.

The academy’s strato­spheric air­ships can op­er­ate au­tonomously or be re­motely con­trolled by ground per­son­nel, ac­cord­ing to ear­lier re­ports.

So­lar- pow­ered, re­us­able and un­manned, such ve­hi­cles can spend a long time aloft and serve a wide range of pur­poses. At least five na­tions, in­clud­ing the United States and Ja­pan, are de­vel­op­ing such sys­tems.

Wang Ya’nan, edi­tor-inchief of Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine, said that com­pared with space­craft and satel­lites, strato­spheric air­ships do not need a launch­pad and are con­ve­nient to re­trieve and re­use. They also pro­vide a wider view of the Earth and a much longer op­er­a­tional time than air­craft.

“There­fore, they pro­vide a bet­ter plat­form for Earth mon­i­tor­ing and mar­itime sur­veil­lance,” Wang said.

More­over, be­cause air­ships are closer to the Earth than satel­lites, they can act as a bet­ter hub for re­lay­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions sig­nals.

“In ad­di­tion, strato­spheric air­ships are able to carry pay­loads that will be as much as 10 times that of a space­craft,” Wang said.

Zhu Ming, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Bei­hang Univer­sity in Bei­jing, said they could have many uses in the pub­lic sec­tor.

“They have a lot of po­ten­tial in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, dis­as­ter re­lief and weather fore­cast­ing,” he said.

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