Chinese scientists have developed an unmanned vessel upon which weather rockets will be launched. It is called rocketsonde and was launched from the semi-submersible vehicle (USSV) network built by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics. It is reportedly expected to generate ‘long-term, continuous and real-time marine meteorological measurements, including atmospheric sounding in the lower troposphere.'

The Institute has conducted trials in rivers and seas from May 2016 to November 2017.

Source: Siping Zheng

Lead author Hongbin Chen, a professor of atmospheric and marine science at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences told The Engineers:

“Launched from a long-duration unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, with strong mobility and large coverage of the sea area, rocketsonde can be used under severe sea conditions and will be more economical and applicable in the future.”

Through their tests, they found their submarine and rocket technology could measure ‘sea temperature, vertical profiles of the pressure, temperature [in the air], relative humidity, wind speed, and wind direction.' 

Dr. Jun Li, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, CAS also told the Engineer:

“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.”

The researchers say that current technologies available for the purpose of producing meteorology and oceanography data are expensive to produce and operate — their approach may make the data much more accessible and drive down the costs of operation. Essentially, they are sending an unmanned submarine with a rocket on it out to sea, launching the rocket, and generating weather and atmospheric data. Engineering never fails to disappoint!

The researchers are now developing more USSVs and are looking to fit them with all sorts of sensors on them that can generate data on a plethora of marine science. All of these cost-friendly alternatives to the expensive technologies running today, according to the researchers, will produce ‘higher-resolution observations’ of the ocean for an extended duration of time. Their current USSV prototype is detailed in their journal:

“The vessel has a dry weight (with fuel) of 6200kg and carries a payload capacity of 300kg for an automatic weather station (AWS) in addition to computers, METOC sensors, sounding rockets and camera equipment. The USSV is powered by a diesel engine, and it was designed to be continuously operated for 10 days before retrieving the vessel for refueling and resting.”

The atmospheric measurements taken of the marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) will help determine the formation of high-impact weather patterns that produce typhoons and the like. Historically, it would be hard to measure the MABL due to safety considerations, but with an unmanned vehicle fitted with low-cost technologies, it could revolutionize the measuring of the MABL.

As climate science becomes more and more important, observations from the atmosphere above the world’s oceans will become crucial data to governments and meteorologists all around the world.


Works Cited

“China Launches World's First Robot Ship for Sounding Rockets.” Press Release - Digital Journal, 3 Feb. 2019, www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/science/china-launches-world-s-first-robot-ship-for-sounding-rockets/article/542395.

“Weather Rocket Launched from Unmanned Chinese Vessel in World First.” The Engineer, 1 Feb. 2019, www.theengineer.co.uk/weather-rocket-unmanned-chinese-vessel/.

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