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High-flying airships to probe atmosphere
update:May 24,2019
May 24, 2019 -- A giant helium-filled airship called Jimu 1 docks at the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. [Photo by Aerospace Information Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences]

May 24, 2019 -- Chinese scientists launched a giant helium-filled airship called Jimu 1 on Thursday morning to collect weather data at a record altitude of more than 7,000 meters above the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

It is the first of three airships in the pipeline aimed at collecting key atmospheric data on the plateau and observing the effects of climate change to provide support for sustainable development on the plateau.

The planned Jimu 2 will fly even higher, followed by Jimu 3, a groundbreaking model that will exceed the height of Mount Qomolangma — more than 8,800 meters. It will house experimental and advanced equipment that can push the limits of science and engineering.

May 24, 2019 -- The Jimu 1 airship is launched on the morning of May 23, 2019. [Photo by Aerospace Information Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences]

While the Jimu 1 is a prototype whose main purpose is to test designs and applications, Jimu 2 will be the finished model designed to operate at the altitude around 7,000 to 7,500 meters and serve the second scientific expedition to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which began in 2017.

The Jimu 1, has a volume of 2,300 cubic meters and contains 1,400 kilograms of helium. Its surface is made of composite fabric that can withstand temperatures as low as -70 C, according to the Aerospace Information Research Institute of the Chinese Academy Sciences, the airship's creator. Most of the components were made in China.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has been dubbed Earth's "third pole" and "the water tower of Asia". It is the source of many Asian rivers including the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus and Mekong.

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