OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On Saturday the U.S. downed a Chinese surveillance balloon off the Carolina coast. According to the defense secretary, the balloon was being used by China to monitor strategic sites in the continental United States.
The giant balloon was the size of three school buses and floated across the country for several days.
An Oklahoma State University expert on high-altitude balloons told KFOR, with the size of the payload that it was carrying, it could have posed a potential hazard to people on the ground.
“They decided at this
point just to let it drift until it went over the Atlantic and but then shoot it down over the ocean, but close enough to shore to make it relatively easy to recover the payload,” said Jamey Jacob, Director of OSU’s Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education.
Jamey Jacob, Director of OSU’s Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education has been involved with high altitude balloon launches for over 20 years, namely for NASA and other federal agencies for measurements of the atmospheric and other phenomena, such as earthquakes and eclipses.
Jacob said it’s fairly common for balloons of this size to be used for mostly scientific observations.
“High altitude weather balloons and balloons of this type are pretty common. We have, you know, dozens and hundreds of weather balloons across the globe that are launched daily, primarily to take weather measurements,” said Jacob.
Jacob said it was the best option for the U.S. to shoot it down.
“Balloons like this aren’t really great tools for spying. One, because they’re so obvious… Balloons of this type always have what’s called a termination system. So, it’s usually for the operator to be able to terminate the balloon such that you can recover the payload before it drifts over into someone’s airspace,” said Jacob.
Balloon launches that Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education regularly does are similar size and design of the one the U.S. shot down.
“These usually take a fairly small team of engineers and scientists to be able to launch. And once the balloon gets in the air, it’s very interesting because you can’t really control it like you control other aircraft. Lighter than aircraft, just simply float with the breeze,” said Jacob.
Friday, China said the balloon was a “civilian airship” used for weather research that had been blown off course.
The President complemented those responsible for taking down the balloon.