Independently developed without any foreign assistance, China has tested a high-altitude airship or blimp named Yuanmeng, meaning “to fulfil a dream” in Chinese, perhaps referring to the country’s vision of conquering the stratosphere with independently-constructed airships.
The vision behind the design and testing of the airship is to assess its use for military and civil purposes. The blimp was tested with nearly 100 Chinese scientists present at the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China in early October this year - a Chinese English media reports.
The blimp successfully flew for 22 hours to achieve a 20-kilometer distance above Earth.
Researchers from Beijing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics together with scientists from Nanjiang Space collaborated to develop the airship.
"Near space offers a bridge between aviation and space exploration. Few projects have been conducted in this area,” said Liu Dongxu, associate manager at Nanjiang Space. “We had little previous experience to draw upon in terms of the environment we are dealing with. It has very specific requirements for the material and the overall performance of the aircraft. "
The airship is about 75-meters long with 18,000 cubic meters volume and 24 meters diameter. It is designed to lift up to 300 kilograms of weight. The blimp was filled with helium so that it takes off or floats in space without any difficulties.
"The materials of the airship must be able to balance or cancel out the load of the aircraft itself. So we used high strength fiber in building the blimp,” the scientists reported. “Secondly, the material must ensure very low levels of helium leakage. So we designed and produced the material based on these specifications."
The engineers who constructed the dirigible used solar batteries to power the airship, and it is said to carry a volume that is almost equal to 10 professional swimming pools.
Since airships do not require airports to lift off or land, and since they can also stay afloat at a particular spot in the air for days and even weeks, they are good at being deployed for intelligence gathering, early warning systems, communication purposes, and electronic suppression needs among others.
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China intends to deploy three more airships in 2016 to near space, and the airship’s engineers disclose that "We look at the ships as low-altitude and stationery satellites…they can carry communication base stations and provide continued 4G services to coastal or certain other areas" among other things.