US shot down a Chinese observation balloon what can they actually see

(ORDO NEWS) — On February 4, 2023, the US military shot down what US officials say was a Chinese reconnaissance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Officials said the US Navy planned to raise the wreckage, which is in shallow water.

The US and Canada tracked the balloon as it crossed the Aleutian Islands, passed over Western Canada, and entered US airspace over Idaho.

Defense Department officials confirmed on February 2, 2023 that the military was tracking the balloon as it flew over the US mainland at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The base houses the 341st missile wing, which operates nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The next day, Chinese officials acknowledged that the balloon was theirs, but denied that it was intended for espionage or to infiltrate US airspace.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the balloon invasion forced him to cancel his trip to Beijing. He was scheduled to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gan on February 5 and 6.

The Pentagon said a second, believed to be Chinese, balloon has been sighted over Latin America. On February 4, officials told reporters that a third Chinese reconnaissance balloon was operating somewhere in the world and that the balloons were part of a Chinese military surveillance program.

Observation of the enemy from a balloon began a long time ago. until 1794, when the French used a balloon to track Austrian and Dutch troops at the Battle of Fleurus.

We asked aerospace engineer Ian Boyd of the University of Colorado Boulder to explain how spy balloons work and why in the 21st century someone would use them.

What is a spy balloon?

A spy balloon is a gas-filled balloon that flies fairly high in the sky, roughly where we fly in commercial aircraft.

He’s got some sophisticated cameras and imaging technology, and he’s pointing all those tools down to earth. He collects information through photographs and other images of what is happening on the ground below him.

Why would anyone use a spy balloon and not just use spy satellites?

Satellites are the preferred method of spying from above. Spy satellites are above us today, typically in one of two different types of orbits.

The first is called Low Earth Orbit, and as the name suggests, these satellites are relatively close to the earth. But they are still a few hundred miles above us.

In terms of imaging and photography, the closer you are to something, the more clearly you can see it, and this also applies to espionage.

The advantage of satellites in low Earth orbit is that they are closer to Earth, so they can see things more clearly than satellites further away.

The disadvantage of these satellites is in low Earth orbit. is that they are constantly moving around the Earth.

It takes them about 90 minutes to complete one revolution around the Earth. It turns out to be pretty quick in terms of getting clear photos of what’s going on underneath.

The second type of satellite orbit is called geosynchronous orbit and is much further away. Its disadvantage is that it is difficult to see things clearly when you are very, very far away.

But they have the advantage we call persistence, which allows the satellites to continuously capture images.

In these orbits, you basically don’t notice the same piece of land on the Earth’s surface all the time, because the satellite is moving in exactly the same way as the earth is rotating – it is rotating at the same speed.

In a way, the balloon is superior to them. These balloons are much, much closer to the ground than any of the satellites, so they can see even more clearly.

And then, of course, the balloons move, but they move relatively slowly, so they also have a degree of persistence.

However, balloon espionage is not commonly done these days because balloons are relatively easy targets and not completely controllable.

US shot down a Chinese observation balloon what can they actually see 1
US satellite photo showing a Soviet submarine in port in 1982

What types of surveillance are spy balloons capable of?

I don’t know what is on this particular spy balloon, but most likely they are different types of cameras collecting different types of information.

Nowadays, imaging is carried out in different areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. People see in a certain range of this spectrum, the visible spectrum. So, if you have a camera and you take a photo of your dog, it’s a visible photo.

This is one of the tasks that spy planes do. They take regular photographs, although they have very good zoom capabilities to greatly enlarge what they see.

But you can also collect various information in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Another fairly well-known one is infrared. If it is night, a camera operating in the visible part of the spectrum will not show you anything. Everything will be dark. But an infrared camera can capture heat in the dark.

How do these balloons fly?

Most of these balloons literally go where the wind blows. There may be little navigation, but there are definitely no people on them. They depend on any weather.

Sometimes they have guiding devices that change the height of the balloon to catch the wind blowing in a particular direction.

According to reports, US officials said the Chinese observation balloon had propellers to help it steer. If confirmed, this means that its operator will have much more control over the balloon’s trajectory.

What are the limits of the country’s airspace? At what height does it become space and everyone has the right to be there?

There is an internationally recognized border called the Karman Line at an elevation of 62 miles (100 kilometers). This balloon is significantly lower than this one, so it is definitely in US airspace.

Which countries are known to use spy balloons?

The Pentagon has had programs for the last few years. decades, learning what can be done with balloons that could not be done in the past.

Maybe they’re bigger, maybe they can fly higher in the atmosphere, so they’re harder to shoot down or disable. Perhaps they could be more assertive.

The wide interest in this incident illustrates its unusualness. Few people would expect any country to actively use spy balloons these days.

The US flew a lot of balloons over the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s and they were eventually replaced by high-altitude spy planes, the U-2s, and they were subsequently replaced by satellites.

I’m sure a number of countries around the world have periodically returned to reassessment: are there other things we could do now with balloons that we couldn’t do before? Do they close the gaps between satellites and aircraft?

US shot down a Chinese observation balloon what can they actually see 2

What does that say about the nature of this balloon, which China has confirmed is theirs?

China has been complaining for years about the US spying on China through satellites, through ships.

And China is also well known for its somewhat provocative behavior, such as in the South China Sea, swimming close to the borders of other countries and saber-rattling. I think he falls into that category.

The balloon doesn’t pose a real threat to the US, I think sometimes China is just experimenting to see how far they can go.

It’s not very advanced technology. It serves no real military purpose. I think it’s more of a political message.

This article has been updated to include the news that the balloon was shot down by the US military.


Contact us: [email protected]

Our Standards, Terms of Use: Standard Terms And Conditions.