China to expand weather modification program to cover 5.5 million square kilometers

China this week revealed plans to drastically expand an experimental weather modification program to cover an area of over 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) — more than 1.5 times the total size of India.

a couple of people that are standing in the snow: A worker fires rockets for cloud seeding in an attempt to make rain in Huangpi, China on May 10, 2011.

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A worker fires rockets for cloud seeding in an attempt to make rain in Huangpi, China on May 10, 2011.

According to a statement from the State Council, China will have a “developed weather modification system” by 2025, thanks to breakthroughs in fundamental research and key technologies, as well as improvements in “comprehensive prevention against safety risks.”

In the next five years, the total area covered by artificial rain or snowfall will reach 5.5 million sq km, while over 580,000 sq km (224,000 sq miles) will be covered by hail suppression technologies. The statement added that the program will help with disaster relief, agricultural production, emergency responses to forest and grassland fires, and dealing with unusually high temperatures or droughts.

China has long sought to control the weather to protect farming areas and to ensure clear skies for key events — it seeded clouds ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to reduce smog and avoid rain ahead of the competition. Key political meetings held in the Chinese capital are notorious for enjoying beautiful clear skies, thanks both to weather modification and the shutting down of nearby factories.

As a concept, cloud seeding has been around for decades. It works by injecting small amounts of silver iodide into clouds with a lot of moisture, which then condenses around the new particles, becoming heavier and eventually falling as precipitation.

A study funded by the US National Science Foundation, published earlier this year, found that “cloud seeding can boost snowfall across a wide area if the atmospheric conditions are favorable.” The study was one of the first to ascertain definitively that cloud seeding worked, as previously it had been difficult to distinguish precipitation created as a result of the practice from normal snowfall.

That uncertainty had not stopped China investing heavily in the technology: between 2012 and 2017, the country spent over $1.34 billion on various weather modification programs. Last year, according to state news agency Xinhua, weather modification helped reduce 70% of hail damage in China’s western region of Xinjiang, a key agricultural area.

And while other countries have also invested in cloud seeding, including the US, China’s enthusiasm for the technology has created some alarm, particularly in neighboring India, where agriculture is heavily dependent on the monsoon, which has already been disrupted and become less predictable as a result of climate change.

India and China recently faced off along their shared — and hotly disputed — border in the Himalayas, with the two sides engaging in their bloodiest clash in decades earlier this year. For years, some in India have speculated that weather modification could potentially give China the edge in a future conflict, given the importance of conditions to any troop movements in the inhospitable mountain region.

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SpaceX’s next Starship rocket may soar to 15 kilometers this weekend, but Elon Musk says there’s a 2-in-3 chance the flight may fail

a man standing in front of a tall building: SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is building and launching Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX; Mark Brake/Getty Images; Business Insider

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SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is building and launching Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX; Mark Brake/Getty Images; Business Insider

  • SpaceX is planning to fly a Starship rocket prototype to its highest altitude yet this weekend, according to road closures and a Notice to Airmen issued for the aerospace company’s launch site in southern Texas. 
  • The spacecraft should fly 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the air. Previous prototypes have only made short hops of about 150 meters (492 feet).
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there was a lot that could go wrong, and gave the rocket a one-in-three chance of landing in one piece.
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This weekend, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, is poised to take a big step forward in its quest to further revolutionize space travel.


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Musk tweeted on Sunday that a prototype of SpaceX’s enormous Starship spacecraft — a fully reusable vehicle the company wants to use to send humans to the moon and Mars — will soon undergo its first high-altitude test.

The flight attempt to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), follows a successful November 24 rocket-engine test firing of the Starship prototype, called SN8 or serial no. 8. The test also comes after a successful “hop” flight in August to roughly 150 meters (492 feet) using a previous prototype called SN5.

On Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for a rocket launch from the Boca Chica Village in southern Texas, where SpaceX is developing Starship, from Friday at 8 a.m. CT through Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.

However, both a NOTAM and road closures are required for launch. The Cameron County judge has issued Boca Chica road-closure notices for every weekday through December 9, but the only overlap with the NOTAM is Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT.

Musk: ‘Maybe 1/3 chance’ of a successful flight and landing

a flock of birds flying over a building: A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft at the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas (September 28, 2019). REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

© REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare
A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas (September 28, 2019). REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

This test flight will be a big step in testing whether the design can withstand the rigors of flights to higher altitudes.

Musk said in a follow-up tweet on Wednesday that a “lot of things need to go right” for SN8 to land intact, adding that he thinks there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” that it does.

However, should SN8 fail, SpaceX’s Starship factory is cranking out more prototypes, and SN9 could soon be ready to take its place for future testing.

Read more: SpaceX may spend billions to outsource Starlink satellite-dish production, an industry insider says — and could lose $2,000 on each one it sells

SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft is made up of two sections, the Super Heavy booster and the Starship rocket ship, which Musk claims will be able to carry 100 people to Mars at a time. The entire spacecraft stands at 120 metres (394 feet) tall. 

In October, Musk said SpaceX has a

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NASA reaches out and touches an asteroid 320 million kilometers away

OSIRIS-REx collects samples from asteroid Bennu.

NASA scientists confirmed Wednesday that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully made contact with an asteroid a day earlier, touching the surface for six seconds and collecting dust and pebbles from its surface.

The spacecraft’s performance at the asteroid Bennu, which is only about as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, was remarkable. Because the asteroid is so small, its gravity is negligible, which complicates orbital maneuvering by the spacecraft around what is, essentially, a rubble pile.

Despite these challenges, at a distance of 320 million kilometers on Tuesday, NASA engineers and scientists programmed a spacecraft to autonomously touch down within a single meter of its target area.

Newly released images of the encounter show the spacecraft’s sampling arm moving toward the asteroid at a speed of 10cm per second and crushing rocks beneath it as it reaches the surface.

“Literally, we crushed it,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission. “When the spacecraft made contact, that rock appears to fragment and shatter, which is great news.” This is because the “head” of the sampling arm can only collect material less than 2cm in diameter.

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