Lighter Than Air Maritime Domain Awareness with Chinese Characteristics

Popular Science reports the Chinese have begun testing a largely solar powered airship capable of carrying heavy loads to high altitude (20,000 meters/65,600 feet) and remaining aloft for up to six months.

The airship is expected to have a role similar to that envisioned for the US Army’s JLENS currently being tested with apparently limited success in the Washington DC area, but it would cover a much larger area than the JLENS aerostats.

From its high altitude it can theoretically maintain radar and visual surveillance over a hundred thousand square miles.

The prototype seen in the accompanying video looks much less impressive, but remember that the gas will expand many times, filling out the envelop.

3 thoughts on “Lighter Than Air Maritime Domain Awareness with Chinese Characteristics

  1. I get the concept, communications, radar, persistent eye, and on and on.

    What I don’t get is the article says its tethered with a 3k Meter line? If so why solar panels? The weight and power limiting cost from adding solar panels to a tethered sat makes no sense. Why not power from the ground were power options become wide open especially looking at radar applications?

    • C-Low, you misunderstood. While the US Army’s JLENS is moored and has no solar panels, the Chinese airship is not moored, it is supposed to cruise at over 65,000 feet, so it needs the solar panels.

  2. I know this was published by PopSci, but I will try to be serious…

    1. I can’t tell if this experiment is supposed to be manned or unmanned. I assume unmanned because of the altitude.

    2. There are few Helium sources in the world. They are associated with petroleum, but not all petroleum fields also have Helium. The US used to produce the vast majority of the world’s helium, but Algeria and Qatar are now producers. I don’t know if the petroleum fields in the South China Sea have Helium. If China tries to support a significant fleet of LTA vehicles with Helium, they will probably be dependent on foreign supplies.

    3. I don’t know why they wouldn’t try using Hydrogen. If it is unmanned, then flammable Hydrogen might be an acceptable risk for the Chinese. They’d just have to mitigate the risk of death, injuries, or damage on the ground/sea from the payload falling out of the sky. May not be a significant risk over water. A payload parachute system that deploys when it falls through 10,000ft might be acceptable for Chinese over land flights.

    4. If they use Hydrogen instead of Helium, then maybe they could syphon some of the Hydrogen to run fuel cells for power and ditch the solar cells. They might have to carry an oxygen source since I don’t think there is enough O2 at those altitudes to just pull it out of the atmosphere. Chemical O2 generators might do the trick, if they can keep the hot O2 generators from inadvertantly igniting the Hydrogen.

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