In a World First, China Just Fired a Weather Rocket From an Unmanned Submarine

China has launched a rocketsonde from an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle to improve meteorological and oceanic monitoring.
Loukia Papadopoulos

In a historic world first, Chinese scientists have launched a weather rocket, called a rocketsonde, from a crewless submarine. The rocketsonde will now deliver improved weather and oceanic observations in areas beyond the range covered by traditional weather balloons.

More economical and applicable weather monitoring

"Launched from a long-duration unmanned semi-submersible vehicle (USSV), with strong mobility and large coverage of the sea area, rocketsonde (meteorological rockets that are capable of launching weather instruments up to 8,000 meters into the atmosphere) can be used under severe sea conditions and will be more economical and applicable in the future," said lead author of the study, Hongbin Chen, a professor of atmospheric and marine science at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.


But that's not all. The USSV, which is the equivalent of a crewless submarine or sea drone, will operate as a sea station to collect the data sent by the rocketsonde.

"The unmanned semi-submersible vehicle is an ideal platform for marine meteorological, environmental monitoring, and the atmospheric profile information provided by rocketsonde launched from this platform can improve the accuracy of numerical weather forecasts at sea and in coastal zones," explains study co-author Dr Jun Li, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, CAS.

And the researchers have some pretty lofty goals for these USSVs. They plan to expand their range to capture the sounding network on land and to use them to deliver 3D observations of the internal structure of typhoons and hurricanes to better assess their paths, hopefully lessening their impact.

A new generation of USSVs

"We are currently developing a new generation of USSVs which can carry various sensors relevant to marine science, including conductivity-temperature-depth, acoustic Doppler current profiler, and motion sensors to provide vertical profiles of the conductivity, water temperature, current velocity, and wave height and direction," said Chen. 

With these advancements, the researchers are working on what they call a new interconnected USSV meteorological and oceanographic (METOC) observation network system.

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The system, according to Chen "will be developed to improve the efficiency of collecting METOC observations and provide comprehensive data at the temporal and spatial scales required to answer relevant scientific questions."

What this essentially means is that larger oceanic areas that were previously left unmonitored will now be targeted by the rocketsondes to bring back useful information. The researchers hope this will fill the gaps in knowledge on oceanic and meteorological conditions and result in more effective monitoring of oceanographic phenomena.

The study, including the outcomes of initial sea tests conducted in 2018, is published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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