This unmanned Chinese submersible just launched a weather rocket

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has announced the successful launch of a weather rocket from an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle. This is the first time a rocketsonde has been launched from an autonomous watercraft of this kind, according to the institution, which says the vehicle was designed and developed entirely within China. The vehicle can be used to launch these meteorological rockets when in "severe sea conditions," according to the project's lead author Chen Hongbin.READ: That's no moon, it's a Chinese space light

The semi-submersible vehicle launched a type of sounding rocket called a rocketsonde, which is used for making weather observations at high altitudes. The big benefit to these rockets is their ability to go higher than weather balloons, but there's a downside: they require launch sites.

This limitation means weather rockets are typically used over land, not over the ocean, something Chinese researchers have addressed with the launch of their unmanned semi-submersible vehicle. Unlike typical ocean launches that take place from large vessels, the unmanned submersible doesn't require a crew and can withstand rough seas.

The system is capable of launching weather rockets with instruments up to 8,000 meters / 26,000ft. The lower cost and better durability makes the semi-submersible system ideal over existing, more expensive and limiting, launch site options, according to the researchers.

Chen anticipates a future network of autonomous semi-submersible vehicles deployed to make weather observations across the ocean. The system would reportedly mirror similar observational networks on land, helping improve the quality of weather forecasts for coastal regions and ocean zones.