Chinese surveillance balloon spotted in US airspace causes international stir

There are some odd things about this story.

For one thing, it seems odd that there is no place in eastern Montana that the U.S. Government thinks is open enough to have the debris fall from this balloon if it is deflated by a weapon.

For another, how can they know it is gathering surveillance info if they can't get to it and don't shoot it down to directly check it out?

This is already getting highly political. Since it has happened before with little comment, it seems odd that it is making such big political waves at this time. Are we just seeing propaganda from our own politicians? Or, is there something they aren not telling us about the thing? With satellite surveilance available to China and the U.S. it seems strange that a balloon would provide additional useful info. Maybe cell phone usage by defence personnel? I assume that would be beamed to a satellite rather than be stored on the balloon for later retrieval.

If I were in charge of dealing with it, I would quietly bring it down in the Atlantic whenever it gets there and check out what instruments are really on it. Then, if it is indeed spyware, I would get the politicians involved and take the issue to the U.N.

To me, the real concern is whether some other country, such as North Korea or Iran, could use the same technology to hang a nuclear weapon over the U.S. at some point. We at least need to be able to see it coming and take it down in a safe location - such as the Pacific Ocean.
 
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Well, the news sources I am watching today are showing continuous coverage of this along with many pictures of the balloon. Some even reported F22 raptors looked it over. In 1960, Gary Powers in the U-2 was shot down by Russia.
 
The Pentagon briefing earlier indicated this balloon could be maneuvered too. NORAD apparently has been tracking as it approached the USA, for some time. Political? Way beyond politics IMO.
 
Dec 29, 2022
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Why not prick it? Let it come down slow on land, and see what it is. Did it file a flight plan? Did it ask permission to change course and altitude? It's a danger to navigation. Maybe someone doesn't want any evidence. And speculation can grow.
 
The news reports are now saying that this balloon was first detected over Alaska and tracked through Canada into Montana. Plenty of open space in those areas, so not clear to me why this thing can't be shot down safely (e.g. put a hole or two in the bag) in all that known path.

Also, there is reporting that the U.S. "knows" it is doing surveillance, not just meterological study. There are reports that thing on the ground are being covered or moved. Really?! Does this thing really have so much better optics than the ubiquitous spy satellites?

Because this has happened before without even mention in the press, this event seems to have some additional agendas driving it that aren't being discussed.

At this point, I am wondering if it might not really just be a meteorlogical instrument.

Either way, I hope we bring it down in a manner that allows us to get a full investigation of its capabilities. If China really is dumb enough to use that as a spy device, it is going to hurt them politically. And they don't strike me as politically stupid. So, I am left wondering what is really going on.
 
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… how can they know it is gathering surveillance info …
I'm sure they've pointed antennas at it.

Unless it's "record and pickup," it's going to be talking to the Mother Ship somehow. The US intelligence community knows how to tell. As an RF engineer and lifetime ham radio operator, I can think of numerous ways to detect its EMF emissions, and I'm sure the spooks know much more about it than I!
 
I'm sure they've pointed antennas at it.

Unless it's "record and pickup," it's going to be talking to the Mother Ship somehow. The US intelligence community knows how to tell. As an RF engineer and lifetime ham radio operator, I can think of numerous ways to detect its EMF emissions, and I'm sure the spooks know much more about it than I!
Yes, I am sure the U.S. can figure out that it is transmitting something to somewhere. The question is what info is in the transmission. Can we tell meteorological data from, say, captured cell phone transmissions recoded to whatever the Chinese are using to encrypt their data transmission? That may be why we are seeing some of this odd behavior by our government. Maybe they can understand what the Chinese balloon is transmitting, but don't want the Chinese to know we can do that. Or, maybe the U.S. cannot decipher the Chinese transmission, but want the Chinese to worry that we can. There is a lot of "strategic ambiguity" being played here by the U.S. Strangely, China has at least openly said it is their balloon and have apologized.

But, the U.S. is really going to need to get physical inspection capability for anybody else in the world to agree that there is any proof that China made an intentional incursion for the purpose of spying.

As some of the talking heads on TV this morning pointed out, the balloon now over the U.S. had been tracked for a long time over extremely low population areas in Alaska and Canada, and became public knowledge over places in Montana where there is really only a tiny risk that it would fall onto a person if shot down there. So, that part of the story is really raising red flags about the current story coming from the U.S.

And now there is another Chinese balloon somewhere over "Latin America". That seems to be less likely to be an intentional spy mission. But, maybe the Chinese released a lot of balloons so that at least one would end up where they wanted to spy on something? Or not. Maybe they released a bunch of balloons just to study atmospheric circulation, as they say they are doing. They may even be trying to get some data that will help them fend off arguments that they are releasing too much CO2, to counter some of the new data expected from the new CO2 sensing satellites.

Not that I trust the Chinese Government, but I am wary of U.S. politicians. And, I also realize that the Defense Department can't explain everything they are thinking clearly to the U.S. population without divulging information (particularly about capabilities or lack thereof) that we don't want potential adversaries to know.
 
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OK, They shot it down with a missile about 6 miles off the Carolina coast. It came down in 47 feet of water and "recovery" efforts are under way. It seems like the USCG and Navy should be able to collect everything they want from the debris field. So, hopefully we will get a true picture of what the balloon's instruments were actually doing. But, maybe not. The truth is going to be embarrassing to one country or the other, so, if it is the U.S. that would be embarrassed by getting upset over just a meteorological device, we may have some cover story about not getting everything or not being able to fully evaluate the damaged wreckage.

The strange thing about this is that it isn't the first time it has happened; See https://www.verifythis.com/article/news/verify/national-verify/chinese-spy-balloon-flying-over-united-states-3-fast-facts/536-15610ec7-aac2-4749-b354-533bf4bb6fec which says:

"The Pentagon says this isn’t the first time a balloon like this has flown over the U.S.

"A senior defense official with the Pentagon said “balloons of this nature” have flown over the U.S. “a handful of other times over the past few years,” including before the Biden administration.

"What’s different about this balloon is how long it’s been over U.S. airspace.

“'It is appearing to hang out for a long period of time this time around, more persistent than in previous instances. So that would be one distinguishing factor,' the defense official told reporters.

"During the Feb. 3 news conference, Ryder told reporters the instances of those other balloons flying into U.S. airspace are classified.

"'I'm not able to provide it other than I can confirm that there have been other incidents where balloons did come close to or cross over U.S. territory,' Ryder said."

Since those previous incidents did not make the news, could this time be different just because a lot of the public noticed it? Or is it because we are already miffed at China, this time? Or is there really something different that we are not being told?
 
There are a lot of unresolved questions I hold.

Given the lack of knowledge of a prior Chinese balloon entering US territory from essentially every top official from the prior administration, including the Dir. of Nat. Security (Grinnell), it's likely that any entry, as claimed, would have been a tip-toe (in and out) attempt of entering our airspace; too quick to respond. Yet I haven't found any details on those "prior" events in my searches. [The 9,000 sent with bombs from Japan during WWII don't count, but worth noting.]

I'm surprised more observations weren't made prior to the first one, which seems to have come from Billings, MN.

A 200 ft. balloon at 70k feet appears about 1/3 the size of the Moon's diameter. (0.16 deg. vs. Moon's at 0.5 deg.). During sunset it would appear notably brighter than Vega, by my rough calculations, and would have motion. Were there no amateur astronomer reports?
 
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I read that this balloon came in over Alaska and then Canada. At this time of year, there is a longer dark period there, it is often cloudy, and there are not a lot of people in the area, especially not a lot looking up with binoculars or telescopes like astronomers are thinking.

That said, we are now hearing that this balloon was known and tracked by the government, starting while it was in Alaska. So, the news media probably was not going to be informed until there was a substantial public observation, which seems to have occurred in Montana once the balloon got past the mountains.

There is now a briefing paper for Congresspeople (viewed only in a secured room at the Capitol) which talks about other, previous balloon incursions, and admits that there were at least 4 that got over parts of the U.S., including Hawaii and Florida, that were previously identified as "UFOs". Not to be confused with "alien space craft", it is just a recognition that something was reported without being identified. There is also a report that a similar balloon came down near Hawaii 4 months ago, which may be what got our government looking for other balloons, past and present.

It was interesting to learn that this balloon was inspected by U-2 aircraft, which are capable of looking at it from its own altitude. So, there is a lot more info about what this balloon looked like and was fitted with in the way of externally visible instruments and maneuvering apparatus. We in the public are not currently seeing any of that info, probably for security reasons, but I expect it will be released pretty soon. Once there is an admission that info exists, it usually means that at least some of it will be declassified.

Considering both the international and internal politics involved in this situation, I am not surprised that it took a well publicized observation by members of the public to make it public knowledge. In the (not recent) past, the U.S. has flown manned aircraft over both the USSR and China without telling the U.S. public. And, the Soviet government was also aware of the spy flights, but did not mention them publicly until they were able to stop them physically - which they demonstrated by shooting down the U-2 piloted by Gary Powers on 5/1/1960. So, there is the matter of political embarrassment, national security secrecy, and the "well, we are doing it too" issue that we may or may not know anything about in the public arena.

My concern is more about how the same technique could be used by rouge entities to deliver bombs. As Helio mentioned, Japan tries that in WWII, without much success. But, with the technology the Chinese demonstrated, it looks much more feasible to do it successfully, now. So, I am agreeing that we have a defense "gap" that needs closing in the high-altitude arena.
 
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I suspect their cameras included IR imaging. From space, IR is a big problem, apparently. Also, night imaging from space is highly limited, I’ll bet, since longer exposure times are detrimental to getting reasonable images. [Astronaut Don Pettit built a swivel plate device that allowed theIr ISS camera to swing at a matching rate to their travel speed. He used the ISS drill to turn the screw that swung the camera mount. This gave us, IIRC, the first nice night time images of Earth and her glowing cities.]
 
If this is really a surveillance effort aimed at our ballistic missile fields, I would expect the instrument package to include ground-penetrating radar. If that is found, it would sure falsify any claims of strictly meteorological intent.
 
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There are a lot of unresolved questions I hold.

Given the lack of knowledge of a prior Chinese balloon entering US territory from essentially every top official from the prior administration, including the Dir. of Nat. Security (Grinnell), it's likely that any entry, as claimed, would have been a tip-toe (in and out) attempt of entering our airspace; too quick to respond. Yet I haven't found any details on those "prior" events in my searches. [The 9,000 sent with bombs from Japan during WWII don't count, but worth noting.]

I'm surprised more observations weren't made prior to the first one, which seems to have come from Billings, MN.

A 200 ft. balloon at 70k feet appears about 1/3 the size of the Moon's diameter. (0.16 deg. vs. Moon's at 0.5 deg.). During sunset it would appear notably brighter than Vega, by my rough calculations, and would have motion. Were there no amateur astronomer reports?
I checked here too Helio. At 21.5 km altitude, an angular size of 300 arcsecond or 5 arcminute, 31.27 meters in diameter. Reports I read indicate the balloon diameter about 120 feet or more than 35-meter diameter, let alone the height of the balloon, perhaps 200 feet or more than 60-meters. Such balloons in the past would be easy to see and detect using unaided eyes and simple binoculars. I can only imagine the radar image that would show up too :) I viewed large weather balloons coming down the jet stream from PA into MD area past the Chesapeake Bay and moving to the Atlantic, because of EMI reporting station with NOAA. The balloons were well above the jet route altitudes from NYC to Atlanta. I was observing the Sun using my glass white light solar filter, and it was obvious what past the Sun across my eyepiece. I removed the filter and tracked the balloon for a bit too, using simple alt-azimuth slow motion controls. That was my 90-mm refractor telescope and at 50x views, no problem seeing the balloon :)

It remains a mystery how these balloons in the past administration, went undetected until this new report came out :)
 
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I doubt that our government wants it known exactly how it detected this balloon and how it cannot detect it. But, if the balloon is made with materials that suppress radar reflections, that would be an interesting finding that might be announced publicly.

Regarding visual detection, I have been wondering if the balloon could not have been given a color or reflectivity that would have made it less obvious for visual detection while high in the sky. Painting it "sky blue" seems like it might have some stealth benefits. But, I am not so sure what "sky blue" looks like with the sun at different angles, so maybe that isn't feasible?
 
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FYI Unclear Engineer et al. When the balloon reporting was spreading around in the media, I was watching Fox and Newsmax. Newsmax interviewed a member of the US House from MT and I watched that interview live. They were getting various phone calls from the citizens in MT who could see the balloon. Apparently, MT citizens (at least some) could see and were concerned at what was going on over their skies and the missile sites at MT under the balloon position. Those citizen observations fit well with what Helio and I said concerning the angular size of such a balloon and altitude, and ability to see such an object.
 
Rod, I was not speculating that this balloon is painted sky blue. I was just wondering if that would be feasible if the Chinese had wanted to minimize non-military detection by populations on the ground.

So far as I can see, that was not done with this balloon. So, yes, I am not surprised that a lot of people saw it in Montana and it made the news, which meant that even more people would go look for it and the Government could not remain silent, thereafter.
 
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Why not prick it? Let it come down slow on land… Did it file a flight plan? Did it ask permission to change course and altitude? It's a danger to navigation.
At 60,000 feet, it was only a "danger" to U-2 and SR-71 surveillance aircraft, whereas if it were "pricked" and allowed to descend slowly, it would have become a danger to commercial aircraft.

I think waiting until it was over the Atlantic was a good call. Although I'm dubious about that being much of a soft landing. Depending on the terminal velocity, water can be pretty much the same as cement.
 
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Dec 29, 2022
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I think we should have captured it, in an operational manner. To see whatever it is and put this speculation to bed. Clearing the air space around the landing is no problem. There is no excuse for this incompetence.

It's 2023 and we can't catch a balloon at high altitude? Why don't we spay something on it?

We can't make a small cauterizing hole at the bottom of the balloon where the balloon is the thickest....with a laser? A few millimeter holes to prevent rapid loss of pressure.

We pay premium prices for 3rd world solutions.
 
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The Canadians had a high altitude balloon get away several years ago. See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64546767 .

The thing was supposed to deflate automatically and parachute the instruments down, but that failed, and it escaped Canadian air space.

The Canadians had tried to shoot is down - " A Canadian CF-18s fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition at the balloon." But "those small bullet holes and a balloon that size would have almost no effect." so they were shooting for the equipment release mechanism. However, it continued for a "9-day odyssey" across the Atlantic, briefly going into Russian air space before coming down in Norway. And, when the package was eventually recovered "there were some bullet holes on the instrument package and its parachute".

And that is probably why the U.S. decided to use a missile to bring the Chinese balloon down fast in a reasonably easily predicted location.
 
One authority stated we do have the technology to have captured it, but was not at liberty to give details.

The bigger story is likely political, not scientific. The public’s response has led, IMO, to almost ever UFO being blasted.
 
I seriously doubt we "have the technology to capture it" in any available form. Why would we? And why was that not used by the Canadians in 1998? Have we been secretly developing balloon capture devices for the last 25 years? Probably not. If so, why wouldn't we have quietly snagged it before it even got to Montana, and analyzed it without telling anybody about it until we know the answers?

There are some plans to snag returning satelline payloads while still in the air, but I don't think any of those operate at 60,000 ft, and they aren't having great success statistics, either.

It is far too easy for somebody to claim something annonymously and say they aren't at liberty to give details. It is a lot harder to get me to believe it.
 
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