China has launched its first domestically built polar research vessel and ice breaker, Snow Dragon 2 (Xuelong 2), at Jiangnan Shipyard Group in Shanghai on Monday.
The construction of the vessel was started at the shipyard in December 2016. She will now conduct mooring tests and undergo additional equipment installation, and will soon initiate its sea trials.
Snow Dragon 2 is jointly designed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) and Finland-based Aker Arctic Technology.
The vessel will be 122.5 meters long and 22.3 meters wide, with a displacement of 13,990 tonnes and a range of 20,000 nautical miles.
She has a diesel-electric propulsion system, with two 16-cylinder and two 12-cylinder engines, both Wärtsilä 32-series designs, powering two 7.5 MW Azipods that give her a speed of up to 15 knots in open water and 3 knots when breaking ice. The icebreaker can sail on 60-day expeditions with 90 crew members and researchers.
According to the Polar Research Institute of China, Xuelong is able to break through 1.5-meter (4.9 ft) thick ice at a maximum speed of 3 knots making it a PC3 icebreaker under the Polar Class of measurement. The ship will also have two-direction ice breaking capabilities with both its bow and stern.
The ship will be equipped with advanced oceanographic survey and monitoring apparatus, enabling experts to carry out research into polar ice coverage, atmospheric and environmental conditions, as well as conduct seafloor and biological resource surveys.
Xuelong 2 will formally begin operations in the first half of 2019 if everything goes according to schedule. She will join Xuelong 1, the country’s first icebreaker which was built in Ukraine and put into service in 1994. Xuelong 1 has carried out dozens of scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.
Xuelong was designed for cargo transportation rather than scientific research operations. But the new icebreaker will serve both as a supply vessel for China’s research facilities in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and as a research vessel, with capabilities for geological and biological experimentation and surveying.
Chinese scientists have already begun design work on a next-generation icebreaker that will be more advanced than Xuelong 2, according to Wu Gang, chief designer of the icebreaker at the company’s Marine Design and Research Institute in Shanghai. The designer explained that the next-generation icebreaker will be able to break ice about 3 meters thick and endure temperatures as low as-45 C.