What happened: A model of one of China’s planned Tianhe satellites was recently shown at an exhibition in the southern Guangdong city of Zhuhai. According to state media, Tianhe’s goal is to use an array of satellites and rockets to move water vapor in the area from humid parts of West China to Beijing and surrounding regions, making the winters there less dry. The project will launch an initial batch of satellites, equipped to measure humidity and cloud water, by 2020. Then, six satellites will analyze the movement of water through the atmosphere in order to help set up an ‘air corridor’ for vapor to flow to northern China.
Why it’s important: Chinese scientists have previously observed natural air corridors at work over the Indian Ocean as well as the Yunnan-Guizhou and Qinghai-Tibet plateaus. Nevertheless, Tianhe marks an attempt at environmental intervention on a level not seen before in China. That’s not to say it can’t be done; after all, the country is just now finishing up another huge project that brought water up from the Yangtze River to the Beijing area. But this is the first time that satellites have been part of China’s plans to change nature in order to better serve its population.