China demonstrates its heavy payload scientific balloon with latest test flight
China lifted a high-altitude balloon containing 1.2 tons of scientific payloads into the sky up to an altitude of approximately 18 miles (30 km) as part of a demonstration test on September 30, 2022.
A research team from the Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) conducted the test in the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai. They set out to validate the payload capacity of their near-space balloon platform.
A CAS press release states that the new development is "a further step in the development of China's high-altitude balloon platform."
China's high-altitude scientific balloon
The balloon deployed by the AIR researchers is capable of carrying tons of scientific instruments and experiments to the upper atmosphere.
CAS and AIR released little information regarding the number of scientific payloads, if any, that went up on the demonstration mission. In the CAS statement, however, the organization claimed the balloon is capable of sending large unmanned air vehicles and other experimental technologies into the near-space region of the stratosphere.
During their test, the uninflated length of the balloon measured more than 100 meters. Once inflated, it measured 180,000 cubic meters. The balloon carried a gondola roughly 18 miles into the sky.
NASA also sees great potential in the further development of high-altitude balloons, which already play an important role in weather and climate observations.
Last month, the U.S. space agency tested an aerial robotic balloon prototype designed with the goal of eventually deploying scientific instruments in the clouds of Venus. The balloon has completed two successful test flights thus far and it could one day help scientists determine whether microbial alien life exists in Venus' upper atmosphere.
China joins the space race
In recent years, China has been working hard to establish itself as a leading world space power capable of rivaling NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos. In 2019, it landed a rover on the far side of the moon, and last year it successfully landed another on Mars. The country's space administration also lifted the third and final module of its Tiangong space station to orbit this week, October 31. It is also planning a lunar orbital station with Russia to rival NASA's lunar Gateway program.
In an interview with IE, former IE Senior Editor Brad Bergan, who just released a new book titled 'Space Race 2.0', highlighted China's impressive advances in space in recent years and stated that the country could soon have the only space station in orbit — if only for a short while. "Imagining a future where whatever the private-public partnership funded replacement for the ISS will take some time to reach orbit," Bergan explained, "there might very well be a time when China has the only operational space station in low Earth orbit."
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