The US and Chinese are presently engaged in an unusual stalemate over suspicions of high-altitude balloon spying. Last week, the United States shot down three mysterious ‘objects’ flying over its and Canada’s territory. Because the downed items have yet to be retrieved, it is unclear if they were balloons.
However, the first occurrence occurred on February 4, when a Chinese balloon, which Beijing said was intended for scientific purposes, was blown off track by wind. The US has also alleged that Chinese balloons crossed US airspace at least four times previously, going unnoticed. China, for its part, has accused the United States of launching surveillance balloons above its airspace at least ten times since last year.
US and Chinese Balloons in high elevations
US and Chinese spy allegations_Balloons have been in widespread usage for several decades, however their origins date back at least 200 years. They are primarily employed for scientific objectives, but are increasingly being utilised for tourist and thrill rides, surveillance, and disaster relief and rescue.
The larger balloons may be as enormous as a football stadium, travel up to 40-50 kilometres above the ground, and carry thousands of kilos of cargo. The majority of them are made of thin sheets of polyethylene, similar to typical plastic bags, and are generally filled with helium gas. Balloons may linger in the air for many hours to several months. Those designed to stay in the air for an extended period of time and go higher in the atmosphere are composed of more modern materials for improved sturdiness.
A gondola, which is typically attached to balloons and used to transport people or equipment, is termed a basket. In unmanned flights, the gondolas are also connected to a parachute. When the balloon has served its purpose, a mechanism in the gondola is triggered, causing the links between the gondola and the balloon to break and the fabric of the balloon to burst. The burst balloon follows the gondola as it descends to the ground with the help of the parachute. The prospective landing zone is established based on weather conditions.
US and Chinese missions in science
US and Chinese spy allegations_Balloons are most frequently used in scientific research. Before the space era began, balloons that had sensors on board might in a sense serve as satellites. There are circumstances where balloons are preferred even in the era of sophisticated satellites. Measurements of air temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, and aerosol concentrations are frequently made by weather services using balloons.
Because of the great heights that today’s big balloons can reach, astrophysicists and even space organisations consider them valuable. These are generally clean areas, far higher than the altitudes at which aeroplanes travel and much lower than the closest orbits, roughly 200 kilometres from Earth, where satellites are positioned. They frequently provide superior opportunity to study specific portions of the Earth and are thousands of times less expensive than satellites.
Furthermore, because the balloons are deflated when their mission is completed, the instruments employed are recoverable and reusable. NASA has a full-fledged balloon programme that launches four to five balloons every year. Several colleges and research institutions employ balloons for research purposes as well.
At least two Nobel Prizes in Physics have been awarded for balloon-based investigations, in 1936 and 2006.High-altitude balloons are appealing vehicles for espionage activities, yet their employment is not well recognised. Drones and satellites are increasingly being deployed, while spy planes have been in use since World War I.
But, once again, balloons offer benefits. They have the ability to hover over an area for an extended period of time. Large balloons may hold thousands of pounds of weight, which means they can be loaded with eavesdropping devices.
The primary benefit is that they have a better chance of going unnoticed. Because of their sluggish movement, balloons are sometimes misidentified as birds by defence radars, allowing them to escape detection. In fact, the United States has said that it would re-calibrate its radar systems to identify slower-moving objects.
Balloons, unlike aeroplanes, drones, or satellites, lack sophisticated navigation systems and are primarily at the mercy of wind speed and direction. However, the balloon that was dropped on February 4 seemed to have a solar panel attached to it, raising the potential that it was powering an onboard propulsion mechanism.
About India Ballooning
US and Chinese spy allegations_Scientific balloons have been used in India for almost 70 years, with Homi Bhabha sending the first one in 1948 for cosmic ray research. In the 1950s, the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) began balloon fabrication operations, and multiple balloon flights were place from Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Later, in 1969, the TIFR constructed a full-fledged Balloon Facility in Hyderabad, which is still India’s largest of its kind today. Scientists from several research organisations have utilised it to launch over 500 flights to date. It is commonly utilised by ISRO satellite facilities and weather research organisations such as the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.
Some private educational schools, as well as organisations like the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bengaluru and Osmania University in Hyderabad, also offer balloon programmes.