China's newest floating observatory, an airship named "Jimu No. 1," completed its 10th ascent successfully on May 21 and soared above the elevation of Mount Everest, Chinese state-run news service, CGTN reported.
Airships are aerial vessels that are made lighter than air using a lifting gas such as hydrogen or helium. Once regarded as the future of travel, these airships were reduced to a few functions such as advertising due to their prohibitive costs and slow pace. After years, airships are set to make a comeback in the aerospace industry, promising a cleaner mode of transportation. The airships have also been found a useful tool for surveillance, both in the military and civilian senses of the term.
China's plans to surveil the Everest region
With climate change affecting us all, there is a strong need to understand the changes happening on the Earth's surface as well as its atmosphere. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as the Tibetan plateau or the Himalayan Plateau, is an area covering 970,000 square miles (2,500,000 sq km) and is home to thousands of glaciers as well as three of the largest rivers in Asia.
The giant ice fields of the region are the largest reserve of fresh water on the planet apart from the two poles, giving it the nickname of the Third Pole. Scientists are keen to know the impact of climate change on this region, and the Chinese airship has been designed by the Aerospace Information Research Institute with this specific application in mind.
Jimu No.1 airship
The 180 feet (55 m) long and 62 feet (19 m) high airship weighs 2.63 tonnes (2.89 tons) and has a volume of 9,000 cubic meters. According to the Institute's website, the airship is made up of a lightweight, low-density, high-strength, radiation-resistant composite fabric material that was developed indigenously in China and has been the first time used in harsh environments of the Everest region.
The complex electromagnetic environment at these altitudes along with low pressure, low temperature, and high speeds in the region, were major challenges tests for the airship that is currently undergoing a series of tests in the region.
On May 15, the airship had reached an altitude of 29,632 feet (9,032 m), CGTN reported. Within a week, the airship soared further upwards to set a world record of 29,691 feet (9050 m). "Of all the 10 observations, two reached over 9,000 meters, and six exceeded 8,000 meters of observation height," said Gao Jing, leader of the airship observation team. "We basically completed the observation mission beyond our expectations in six indicators."
The airship carried a wide range of analytical instruments on board, such as a water vapor stable isotope analyzer, black carbon, methane, and ozone detectors to surveil the area. Scientists will use these instruments to obtain data on scientific parameters such as atmospheric water vapor transmission and greenhouse gases in the region that will help in responding to climate change as well as human development, the Institute said on its website.