China says it 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.
Officially classified as an ‘unmanned semisubmersible vehicle’, the new vessel is designed to sail into bad weather, deploy the sounding rockets, and then gather crucial data about the atmosphere and ocean.
Sounding rockets make brief flights through different layers of the atmosphere, carrying meteorological equipment as high as five miles (eight kilometers) above the ocean.
"The unmanned semisubmersible 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 zones," explains Jun Li, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The research team hopes to eventually deploy a networked fleet of these boats, in particular to study typhoons.
They also intend to equip the boats with more-advanced oceanography sensors – so that the vessels can look downwards as well as upwards.
The test launches are described in a paper published recently in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Science.