Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Spying on a Chinese Spy Balloon

Thanks to some impressive detective work the New York Times has worked out the provenance of the notorious Chinese spy balloon which enraged many Americans back in February. In Tracking the Chinese Spy Balloon From Space you can follow the path the balloon took on an interactive map, as it journeyed from China, across the Pacific Ocean and across the United States during January and February of this year. 

In order to discover the path taken by the Chinese balloon the NYT used satellite imagery of the balloon discovered by the imagery analysis platform RAIC. RAIC used image recognition software to find pictures of the balloon in millions of individual satellite images taken by Planet. The NYT were then able to create an interactive map which shows the path taken by the balloon over time. According to the NYT the balloon was launched from (or near) Hainan Island on January 15th.

Beneath the NYT's map of the balloon's track from China to the Atlantic is a very interesting explanation of how RAIC were able to discover the balloon's path from an analysis of satellite imagery. It also explains how the balloon's varying altitude was also able to be detected from the same satellite imagery. 

Fans of dirigible espionage can launch their own virtual spy balloon using the Spy Balloon Simulator interactive map. The Spy Balloon Simulator allows you to launch an imaginary spy balloon anywhere in the world and view its possible flight path over a 20 day period. The balloon's simulated flight path is calculated using atmospheric data from ERA5, produced by the Copernicus Climate Change Service. At the bottom of the map are some time controls which allow you to see the simulated balloon's position along its calculated flight path for any hour during the 20 day period.

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