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Balloon expert explains the challenges of launching China’s suspected spy balloon • InNewCL

Balloon expert explains the challenges of launching China’s suspected spy balloon • InNewCL

#Balloon #expert #explains #challenges #launching #Chinas #suspected #spy #balloon #InNewCL Welcome to InNewCL, here is the new story we have for you today:

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Earlier this month, a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifted over much of the continental United States before being shot down by an F-22 military fighter jet off the east coast. The event has severely strained the already fragile US-China relationship, with China claiming the stray balloon was merely collecting weather data. Launching the balloon, Beijing said, was an “overreaction.”

The incident has thrown an unexpected spotlight on stratospheric balloon technology. High-altitude balloons themselves are not new: in fact, thousands of balloons are in operation in the stratosphere every day, Near Space Labs CEO Rema Matevosyan explained in an interview with InNewCL. But it’s not every day that you get shot out of the sky top gun style.

Near Space Labs, an American company founded in 2017, operates a commercial fleet of high-altitude balloons. Near Space’s balloons – like the thousands of other weather and earth observation balloons currently floating in the stratosphere – are equipped with different payloads depending on their purpose. The ability to exchange payloads makes balloons a remarkably flexible platform for Earth observation, Matevosyan said.

She hesitated to guess what information the Chinese balloon might have picked up — “Let’s wait for the data on the sensors to be released,” she suggested — but she noted that the Chinese balloon and its payload were significantly larger than the many thousand weather balloons carrying atmospheric sensors. The size of the payload on the Chinese balloon, which US officials said was about the size of three school buses, may indicate there were multiple types of sensors, she said.

There are also challenges to shooting down an object at such a high altitude. The stratosphere is much thinner than the lower regions of the atmosphere, and while you could pop the balloon with a needle if you got close enough, getting that close is impossible given the altitude limitations of commercial airliners. Military jets like the F-22 are not only designed to carry missiles, but their unique shapes are optimized for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, speed and lift-to-mass ratio, Matevosyan explained. According to the Department of Defense, the F-22 fired the Sidewinder missile at an altitude of 58,000 feet; The balloon operated at an altitude of about 60,000 to 65,000 feet, so the rocket didn’t have to travel very far through the stratosphere.

“The air is very thin,” Matevosyan said. “The stratosphere is closer to the Martian atmosphere than to the Earth’s atmosphere. It is actually very complicated to navigate. […] You really need an airplane because you need very stable platforms to be able to send the rocket.”

The big question – one that neither InNewCL nor Matevosyan can answer – is why shoot down this balloon? Why now? The Pentagon said that “cases of this type of balloon activity have been observed in recent years.” No doubt America is spying on China for its part. Given this, many are wondering why Washington decided now is the time to draw the line. Whether the maneuver will escalate ties between the two countries in the long term or be just another move in the superpowers’ chess game remains to be seen.

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