The unmanned Chinese balloon that was flying over the United States last week wasn’t the first one of its kind. Experts say there are dozens of them floating around the globe and usually under the radar.
The unmanned Chinese balloon that flew over the U.S. last week wasn’t the first one of its kind. Experts say there are dozens of them floating around the globe and usually under the radar.
The Oklahoma State University launched a research center dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Defense in detecting these unmanned balloons.
Dr. Jamey Jacob is a Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at Oklahoma State University (OSU).
He said balloons do not make good observation platforms because they drift with the wind.
The Chinese balloon that was seen flying over the U.S. last week was likely made of latex, Jacob said, which is indicated by the way it collapsed, when the U.S. military shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
“It obviously had very large solar panels,” Jacob said, ”So that was providing some power and probably some of the directional and altitude control systems on board and then it had its center payload and it probably, again, carried scientific instruments that both optical and [radio frequency] systems.”
They were likely thwarted, he explained.
“Most likely, NORAD and other intelligence agencies were both monitoring what was being recorded and transmitted back,” he said, “Because they can measure the transmissions coming off of this and even potentially jam them, although obviously, that information was not released.”
The Department of Defense said it knew it was surveillance balloon and that it violated U.S. airspace and international law, which it called, “unacceptable.”
Jacob said balloons like this could easily carry high resolution cameras to capture photos on the ground and they would not necessarily be any better than what a satellite could capture but a balloon can stay over an area of interest for a longer period of time.
“The balloon itself doesn’t pose a threat,” Jacob said, “It’s what it carries and since that was unknown, in terms of the type and the weight of the equipment, it was probably wise to wait to have that shot down over the ocean. The question remains whether it could have been shot down when it was over the Pacific.”