In early 2008 a six-tractor caravan left China’s Zhongshan Station, covering the 1300km traverse to Dome A in three weeks to set up the PLATO Observatory. This automated facility is designed to take advantage of what many scientists consider to be the best site on Earth for astronomy. Dome A’s high elevation, very low humidity and near absence of wind mean that PLATO’s telescopes (from Australia, China, the US and the UK) operate in conditions usually found only in airborne or orbiting telescopes.
In 2012 China installed Antarctica’s largest unmanned optical telescope, the AST3-1. PLATO is powered by solar panels in summer and six small diesel engines in winter. It transmits data via Iridium satellites.