China reveals space weather radar it claims represents a breakthrough

Might share tech and data with the world sometime … maybe

China says it has created its own radar technology to help it forecast space weather, and claimed it made breakthroughs along the way.

According to state-sponsored media the space weather forecast and warning system's first batch of results was released in Beijing on Monday during an international workshop of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) – a network of orgs that run facilities to monitor near-Earth space.

The Chinese system is made up of a network of mid-latitude, high-frequency radars built in China's Jilin Province, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Its construction was completed by the National Space Science Center (NSSC) last October.

The network is said to "achieve large-scale continuous detection of ionospheric irregularities in mid and high latitudes of the Asian sector." Its detection range reaches 4,000 km from south to north, and the east-west span exceeds 12,000 km, according to NSSC.

It continually monitors for abnormalities in the ionosphere – the region of the Earth's atmosphere that is home to both a high concentration of charged particles, as well as spacecraft and space stations. China's government stated the radars were made possible by "new breakthroughs in high-frequency coherent scattering radar technology."

The radar tech is part of the second phase of China's Meridian Project – a "mega project" of large-scale ground-based monitoring systems.

One of the key features of the ionosphere is its ability to reflect and refract radio waves. This property makes it crucial for long-distance radio communication and forms the basis for technologies like AM radio broadcasts and shortwave communications.

Disturbances in the ionosphere – like solar flares or geomagnetic storms – can disrupt communications between satellites and spacecraft. Radar that monitors the ionosphere is therefore handy, given China's reliance on orbiting assets for everyday and strategic purposes. China operates its own satnav constellation, for example.

Other recent orbital efforts include Moon landings and sample returns, rumored AI-controlled satellites, and grappling arms perhaps designed to pluck rival nations' satellites out of orbit.

The Middle Kingdom plans around 100 launches in 2024 alone, so will soon have plenty more assets in the ionosphere to monitor.

China's announcements declare its newfangled radar tech "is expected to join the SuperDARN … and realize real-time data exchange and sharing with databases in the United Kingdom and Canada."

The international collaboration could benefit humans globally. However, Beijing's bulletins don't offer a timeframe for interoperability or data sharing – so in the current frosty diplomatic environment it may be some time before the world gets the Chinese view of space weather. ®

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