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In a major breakthrough, China has unveiled a formidable new high-altitude drone that could give its military a significant advantage.

凭借一项重大的技术突破,中国推出了一种强大的新型高空无人机,从而使它的军队获得显著优势。

Designed to operate in “near space,” 12.5 miles above sea level or higher, China’s new drones can break through air defenses, avoid radar detection, and collect valuable intelligence while staying well beyond the range of anti-aircraft fire.

这款无人机的设计活动范围处于海拔12.5英里以上的“临近空间”。这种新型无人机能够突破防空系统,躲避雷达侦测,收集宝贵情报。

Operating at these heights has been a challenge that has long eluded engineers. Dubbed a drone “death zone” as the air at this elevation makes it difficult to generate lift and extremely low temperatures cause electrical equipment like batteries to fail.

在这样的高空活动,长期以来都是各国工程师面临的挑战。由于这一海拔高度的空气很难产生升力并且极低温导致电池等电气设备失灵,因此被称为“死亡地带”。

Until now, the U.S. military’s RQ-4 Global Hawk has been the highest-flying drone, operating at altitudes of 60,000 feet. But in a recent test, Chinese engineers surpassed that, flying an experimental drone at 82,000 feet.

到目前为止,美军的RQ- 4“全球鹰”一直是飞行高度最大的无人机,它能在6万英尺高空飞行。但在最近的一次测试中,中国工程师超过了这一水平,在82000英尺的高空放飞了一架实验无人机。

At a research facility in Inner Mongolia, two drones were attached to a weather balloon and deployed at 30,000 feet and 82,000 feet. Roughly the size of a bat and weighing about as much as a soccer ball, the drones were launched by an electromagnetic pulse sling shot that catapulted them out at 60 mph.

在内蒙古的一个研究机构,两架无人机被安装在一个气象气球上,并部署在30000英尺和82000英尺的高空。无人机的尺寸大致相当于一只蝙蝠,重量大约相当于一个足球,它由电磁脉冲弹弓发射,以每小时60英里的速度弹射出来。

The drones coasted to targets over sixty miles away, automatically adjusting their flight path and sending data back to a ground station. Most notably, due to their small size, they were barely detectable on radar during their test flight.

这些无人机能够滑翔60英里,自动调整飞行路线,并将数据发回地面接收站。最重要的是,由于它们体积小,在试飞过程中几乎无法被雷达探测到。

The drones were equipped with several sensors, including a terrain mapping device and an electromagnetic signal detector that would allow it to pinpoint military troops. However, the drones could not carry cameras, as that would require a bulky antenna to transmit photo or video data, which would throw off its delicate aerodynamics.

无人机装备了几个传感器,包括一个地形测绘设备和一个电磁信号探测器,可以让它精确定位军队。然而,无人机无法携带相机,这是因为传输照片或视频数据所用的天线过于庞大,会使其微妙的空气动力学结构失去控制。

Its wings and body are seamlessly blended into a flat, tailless design that generates lift in the thin atmosphere of near space. Some models, like the two recently tested, do not have engines, instead drifting to their targets like a glider.

它的机翼和机身被巧妙地融入扁平的无尾式设计中,能够在临近空间的稀薄空气中产生升力。一些样机,比如最近测试的那两架,甚至没有发动机,而是像滑翔机一样滑向目标。

“The goal of our research is to launch hundreds of these drones in one shot, like letting loose a bee or ant colony,” Professor Yang Yanchu, the head of the project from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the South China Morning Post.

“我们研究的目标是在一次发射中发射数百架这样的无人机,就像蜂群或蚁群那样,”中国科学院项目负责人杨燕初教授在接受《南华早报》采访时表示。

Militaries have long sought to take advantage of near space as it offers an opportunity to gather intelligence over large-areas without the costs or vulnerabilities of satellites.

长期以来,各国军队一直试图利用临近空间,因为它既能在大范围收集情报,又避免了卫星的高成本和固有的弱点。

As advanced militaries increasingly rely on satellites for everything from intelligence to communications to missile guidance, they have become high-priority targets during wartime, and are difficult to defend. Therefore, having near space vehicles capable of gathering intelligence, relaying data, and serving as a backup or even replacement satellites would be invaluable.

由于先进军事力量,从情报到通信到导弹制导,都越来越依赖于卫星,因而它们在战争期间成为首要目标。而且(对卫星的攻击)很难防御。因此,拥有能够收集情报、传递数据、充当后备,甚至替代卫星的太空飞行器将是无价的。

But so far no country has been able to operate in near space, as most aircraft cannot fly at such high altitudes and it is too low for satellites.

但到迄今为止还没有国家能够实现在临近空间的活动,因为大多数飞机都飞不了那么高,而对卫星来说临近空间又太低了。

China has been actively developing new technology that would allow it to operate in this largely uncontested new frontier with its Scientific Experiment System of Near Space, a pilot program led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

中国一直在积极开发新技术,使其能够在这一基本没有竞争者的新领域开展工作。中国科学院领导的一项试点项目将在太空附近进行科学实验。

In June, China test flew a solar-powered drone at 65,000 feet. The massive drone, dubbed the Caihong-T4, has a wingspan of 130 ft and is designed to stay aloft for months at a time with minimal supervision.

今年6月,中国在65000英尺高空试飞了一架太阳能无人机。这架被称为“caihong - t4”的巨型无人机的翼展为130英尺,设计目的为在人为操纵最小化的情况下,于空中停留数月。

Not to be outdone, NASA currently holds the record with its Helios Prototype, which soared to nearly 97,000 feet on solar power.

而不甘示弱的NASA目前仍以其赫利奥斯原型机(Helios Prototype)保持着这一纪录,该太阳能原型机的飞行高度达到了近97000英尺。

But unlike these prototypes and current high-altitude drones which cost millions of dollars, China’s newest high-flying drone would only cost a few hundred yuan.

但与这些造价数百万美元的原型机和目前的高空无人机不同,中国最新的高空无人机只需花费几百人民币。

With these cheap, stealthy high-altitude drones, China has leapt ahead in the near space race.

凭借这些廉价、隐形的高空无人机,中国已经在临近空间竞赛中领先。