Cyclists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on a rainy day. Photo: Xinhua

China is on the verge of wrapping up its gigantic South-North Water Transfer project. The decades-long, multibillion-yuan undertaking seeks to channel fresh water from the Yangtze River to quench the thirst of Beijing and its neighboring provinces via tens of thousands of kilometers of canals.

With the Yangtze River providing tap water in Beijing and water for irrigation on farmlands on the North China Plain, the researchers and meteorologists have started to tackle the even more ambitious Tianhe (Sky River) Project.

According to state media, the Tianhe project will channel water vapor that blankets the skies of the humid western provinces to Beijing and its surroundings to make the capital region less arid in the cold season.

According to the People’s Daily, the tools to guide and monitor the “transportation” of masses of tiny droplets of water thousands of kilometers, from western Qinghai province to Beijing, will be purpose-built satellites and rockets developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.

A model of an observation satellite that will be part of the first phase of the Tianhe Project is now on display at the Zhuhai Airshow.

In order to demonstrate the viability of the project, the academy aims to launch the first batch of Tianhe satellites by 2020. They will be equipped with microwave temperature and humidity meters, precipitation measurement radar and cloud water detectors. 

In the second phase, a constellation of six satellites will provide positioning and monitoring services for the creation of an “air corridor” for the water vapor to flow to northern China, by analyzing the distribution and movement of water in the Earth’s atmosphere. Changes in pressure and precipitation conditions make water vapor in the air flow in a certain direction.

Chinese meteorologists have long found that there are natural “water vapor channels” between the east and west Indian Ocean and above the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau as well as the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

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