Solar panels on downed Chinese balloon powerful enough for advanced radar


In February, a balloon determined to be sent by China was shot down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

The balloon’s surveillance capabilities, outlined in a U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) document, were leaked recently on the chat and streaming website Discord by Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Teixeira was charged on April 14 for unlawfully copying and transmitting classified materials.

The Washington Post reported that the leaked document confirmed the balloon contained enough solar panels to power an advanced form of radar that can generate imagery at night. The surveillance system, known as synthetic aperture radar, can also pierce clouds and thin coverings like tarps.

According to the NGA document, the vessel contained 10 kW of solar capacity. This is a similar amount of solar capacity one would find on a U.S. residential rooftop array.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The balloon also contained a parabolic dish measuring 1.2 meters in diameter, several unidentified sensors and a possible mast antenna, said the Washington Post.

The spy balloon was downed by a missile fired from a U.S. Air Force jet on February 4, 2023. China criticized the U.S. for its response to the balloon, saying that it is “irresponsible” and a demonstration of “information warfare” against Beijing.

The U.S. said it took action to disable capabilities of the balloon while it was in the air, before ultimately deciding to shoot it down, blocking it from collecting U.S. communications.

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