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article imageChina launches world's first robot ship for sounding rockets

By Karen Graham     Feb 3, 2019 in Science
China has built the world's first robotic, partially submersible boat for launching sounding rockets - a technology that will help meteorologists better understand the atmosphere over Earth's oceans.
Although the tests on the "uncrewed semisubmersible vehicle," (USSV) were conducted in 2017, a paper describing the results of the testing was published on January 31 in the journal, Advances in Atmospheric Science.
There is no reason to be alarmed about these particular rockets. A sounding rocket or rocketsonde is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. Usually, sounding rockets are launched from land-based facilities.
NASA's Wallops Island Space Flight Center, located in Virginia, launches around 25 sounding rockets every year. The rockets can also be launched from aircraft carriers or other crewed vessels.
Japanese S-310 Rocket No.1 Full Scale Model set on a launcher.
Japanese S-310 Rocket No.1 Full Scale Model set on a launcher.
user:masamic (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The rockets are used to carry instruments from 30 to 900 miles (48 to 1,448 kilometers) into the Earth's atmosphere. This is generally the altitude between where weather balloons and satellites are found.
The world is very familiar with the satellites used to visualize weather patterns around the globe — but like NASA's Hurricane Hunter aircraft, or manned vessels — it can be expensive, difficult and dangerous to study the three-quarters of the Earth's atmosphere that is found over water.
This is where China's USSV comes into the picture. It is designed to sail into bad weather, deploy a sounding rocket with its package of instruments and collect crucial data about the atmosphere and ocean.
A Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket was successfully launched at 7:05 a.m. EST  Marc...
A Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket was successfully launched at 7:05 a.m. EST, March 7, 2018, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The rocket carried three space technology development projects.
As the name suggests, the USSV travels mostly underwater, with only its equipment compartment visible above the waterline. This makes the eight meters (28 feet) long, and one meter (1.2 feet) wide vessel less vulnerable to being knocked around by waves. And with its low center-of-gravity, it is also more stable.
In a statement accompanying the new paper, co-author Jun Li, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, writes: "The unmanned semi-submersible vehicle is an ideal platform for marine meteorological environmental monitoring, and the atmospheric profile information provided by [sounding rockets] launched from this platform can improve the accuracy of numerical weather forecasts at sea and in coastal zone."
With all the initial tests complete, the research team is ready to deploy the boats — especially to study typhoons in the Western Pacific Ocean.
More about China, sounding rockets, USSV, Research, semisubmersible
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