(Popular Mechanics) Earlier this month, China tested a new helium-filled airship that will soar to great height to offer the government new and broad surveillance capabilities. Called Yuanmeng, the ship is expected to be able to stay aloft for up to 48 hours. According to People's Daily Online, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the Yuanmeng was tested above Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia, on October 6.
The airship works via a combination of lighter-than-air gases and electricity. Helium lifts the ship to the near-space region (65,000 to 328,000 feet). Once Yuanmeng is at altitude, solar panels mounted on the surface provide electrical power to propellers that guide the airship into position. Solar power is ideal for high-altitude drones and airships because it reduces the need for an internal fuel supply, reducing the overall size of the aircraft and freeing it from the task of carrying its own fuel.