Chinese firm sends tortoise into space, nearly
A flying machine carrying a special “passenger” — a tortoise — reached an altitude of 12,000 meters on its maiden flight on Thursday night in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Luan Lin, co-founder of the Kuang-Chi Group that invented the device, said her team had expected Traveler II to reach 20,000 meters. However, problems with communication and remote control began when it reached 12,000meters over Bostan Lake, and the team had to give up.
Luan said the setback would not dampen the team’s enthusiasm for inventing vehicles for near-space travel.
The main cabin of Traveler II has a diameter of 2.5 meters and weighs more than 1metric ton. It has a life-support system capable of providing an environment suitable for humans. The capsule is lifted by a helium balloon 40 meters in diameter. The tortoise was there to provide experimental data, testing the cabin’s environment.
“This is our second generation prototype. We can now communicate with near-space from Earth and use solar energy to drive the propeller during the flight,” Luan said.
However, as the flight did not reach 20,000 meters, lifesupport systems and the propeller were not fully tested, she said.
The test site was chosen for its lack of commercial or military flights. However, winter at Bostan Lake is extremely harsh. The test flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was postponed due to blizzards and strong gales.
Luan said the Traveler series will give human travelers a superb sense of safety and traveling comfort. The Shenzhenbased company plans to eventually take six people at a time on flights to altitudes between 20,000 meters and 24,000 meters.
In addition to passenger flights, the Traveler II also has potential for communications and meteorological applications through remote sensing. The near-space craft could also capture data for cosmic and solar physics.
“Near space” refers to altitudes between 20,000 and 100,000 meters, an area that has yet to be explored by humankind.
The Kuang-Chi Group began work on the Traveler program in February last year. Its Traveler I reached an altitude of 21,000 meters over NewZealand in June.
Liu Ruopeng, president of Kuang-Chi, said the company plans a test flight with human passengers next year.
Kuang-Chi Group, founded in 2010, is a global innovation company. Originating from a five-person team, the company has expanded to a global community of 1,400 employees involved in industries including aerospace, smart cities and artificial intelligence. Its subsidiary, KuangChi Science, is listed in Hong Kong and Australia. It also has an overseas firm, Martin Jetpack, making personal flying equipment.
A worker examines Traveler II before the flying machine starts its maiden flight in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Thursday.