“We have basically created a flying video production studio.”
—Jay Nemeth, Red Bull Stratos Director of High-Altitude Photography
Camera and communications systems are essential to establish visual contact with Felix Baumgartner in order to document the mission’s progress in real time and for future review, and to broadcast the images to a global audience. The challenges of providing extensive still and moving image coverage from multiple perspectives, data transmission, and wired and wireless communication in the extremes of the stratosphere have proven as complex as every other mission component.
- Nine high-definition cameras
- Three 4K (4,000 x 2,000-pixel) digital cinematography cameras
- Three high-resolution digital still cameras
- Pressurized electronics “keg” containing more than 125 electronic components and approximately two miles of wiring
- Five small high-definition video cameras: two on each thigh and one on Felix’s chest pack
The Red Bull Stratos camera system configuration is unique. Most cameras required modification or special electrical and thermal systems to function in near space.
- Cameras have trouble working in extreme cold and extreme heat, as well as in a near vacuum. All cameras have been tested in a special chamber that simulates the conditions of high altitude. Where necessary, cameras have been placed in custom pressurized housings designed and built by FlightLine Films and Micar Fabrication & Design Company. When filled with nitrogen gas, the housings simulate the environment on Earth.
- Four of the capsule cameras are space-rated units attached to the exterior base, eight are in the pressurized housings also on the exterior, and three to the interior. All will be remotely controlled from the Mission Control Center.
- The capsule’s nine advanced HD cameras each individually record to solid-state RAM (random-access memory) recorders and each is routed to one of three digital video transmitters for live viewing on Earth.
- Special filters are used on some of the Red Bull Stratos cameras because the brightness of the sun is more intense in the upper stratosphere.
- It is anticipated that some of the cameras inside the Red Bull Stratos capsule will be covered in ice upon touchdown.
- The suit cameras must function in near-space conditions for up to 20 minutes, as well as at supersonic speed and in any orientation (upside-down, sideways, etc.).
- The Red Bull Stratos capsule and Felix Baumgartner’s pressure suit have more HD cameras than most 45-foot television production trucks.
- A typical satellite uplink truck has one or two channels of microwave video. The Red Bull Stratos capsule has three.
OPTICAL GROUND TRACKING CAMERA SYSTEM
To achieve a live broadcast from 23 miles above the Earth, an optical ground tracking camera system was developed with features ranging from infrared to high-definition cameras. This system is called the “Joint Long-range Aerospace Imaging and Relay” (JLAIR). Two JLAIR units are used for the Red Bull Stratos project.
The JLAIR’s primary imaging equipment includes:
- High-definition P2 camera (up to 60 frames per second)
- 4K (4,000 x 2,000-pixel) camera (up to 120 frames per second in 2K mode)
- Shortwave infrared camera
- Digital still camera
The JLAIR Optical Tracking System offers capabilities not previously available to the private space industry or production companies:
- It carries a variety of high-power zoom lenses and large telescopes attached to an 8,000-pound motorized pedestal, previously used to track Space Shuttle launches.
- The control room allows technicians to select the best images available and transmit them in real time to Mission Control and/or broadcast viewers.
- JLAIR 1 is the first fully integrated tracking system on one vehicle chassis that includes an optics payload of over 1,000 pounds, an air-conditioned control room, an on-board generator for the tracker and sub-systems and encoding and satellite transmission of HD video.
- JLAIR 2 shares the same features but employs a traditional trailer-mounted pedestal with separate control truck for mission flexibility.
ABOUT JAY NEMETH AND FLIGHTLINE FILMS
All of the above camera systems being used for the Red Bull Stratos mission have been personally designed, developed and tested by the mission’s director of aerospace photography, Jay Nemeth.
Jay has worked as an aerial cinematographer for more than 25 years and is one of only a handful of “zero-G” qualified cameramen with full-pressure suit experience. His Las Vegas based company, FlightLine Films, provides leading-edge astro cinematography services, offering both advanced technology and outstanding aesthetic results. For more information: www.flightlinefilms.com
TRACKING HELICOPTER WITH CINEFLEX
In the air during much of Felix Baumgartner’s mission will be a tracking helicopter equipped with a Cineflex camera that is stabilized with a gyro system for precision optics to a sub-pixel level.
The single-engine helicopter has been modified with a custom mission package that includes:
- One Cineflex V14 HD carrying an advanced HD video camera with a 13.5x42 lens that is fully gyro-stabilized
- Two interior HD cameras
- Three HD recorders
- A 2GHZ microwave transmitter
- A 16-port HD switcher
- Programmable FM communications radios
The helicopter’s system allows tracking of both Felix and the capsule, with display of the resulting image on a moving map that shows the helicopter’s own relative position. That moving map image can be displayed to Mission Control to increase situational awareness, and it enables this tracking helicopter to guide the recovery helicopter to Felix's landing site. . With additional seating capacity, the helicopter typically also carries a still photographer to capture even more images for the mission.
ABOUT AARON FITZGERALD AND AIRBORNE IMAGES
The Red Bull Stratos tracking helicopter is provided by Airborne Images and manned by aerial director Carston Bell and pilot Aaron Fitzgerald, who is the company’s founder, president and CEO. Together, they have more than 30 years of experience in film and television aviation.
Airborne Images is a full-service aerial production company that has provided service to Red Bull Stratos that began during pressure suit and parachute system development and continues through test and training jumps to the final mission. In addition, the Los Angeles-based company serves the motion picture industry worldwide with helicopters, airplanes, pilots, gyro-stabilized camera systems, aerial directors of photography, stunt coordinators and a comprehensive range of additional aerial production resources. For more information: www.airborneimages.com
The entire communications solution for Red Bull Stratos is provided by industry leader Riedel Communications.
The ground-based communications system encompasses two main applications:
- Video/data transmission and distribution.
Riedel provides the communications infrastructure on-site. The entire compound - Mission Control, the production offices, the Media Center and the outside broadcasting (OB) truck - are integrated into one single communications infrastructure via a Riedel Artist Digital Matrix system. Artist is a fiber-based solution that offers highly flexible, reliable communications in broadcast-quality audio. Furthermore, the on-site digital radio network (MOTOTRBO), with its 100 devices and ten channels, is provided by Riedel and is seamlessly integrated into the wired matrix intercom system.
VIDEO/DATA TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION
All video signals on the ground are distributed and routed with Riedel's MediorNet technology. MediorNet is a fiber-based real-time network for HD video, audio, communications and data signals that also provides integrated processing, for efficient installation and maintenance. The Red Bull Stratos mission uses 24 MediorNet nodes that are installed in a redundant ring topology to provide maximum reliability. In case a connection between two nodes gets lost, the signals will still be distributed due to the redundant topology.
MediorNet transports all video signals of the mission, as well as all signals from the OB truck and all signals from the JLAIR tracking truck. It also distributes the broadcast audio between Mission Control and recording. Furthermore, the data of the telemetry used for other broadcast applications is transported via MediorNet.
Similar to the setup on the ground, Riedel is responsible for the capsule communications system as well as for the video transmission solutions.
A specially developed communications system provides reliable communication between Felix Baumgartner and Mission Control at pre-launch and during the entire ascent.
A unique telemetry control was specially developed for the capsule’s nine HD video cameras. This system enables control of the video recording and works as a comprehensive digital video router – not unlike having a mini OB truck inside the capsule. It offers complete remote control of the whole video system and features three video downlinks that can be dynamically assigned to the selected cameras.
- Riedel’s communications solutions for the Red Bull Stratos mission have been three years in development.
- The communications equipment used for Red Bull Stratos takes up the space of two freight containers. (If fiber infrastructures weren’t used for connecting all systems, it would take up three!)
- A total of 5 km / 3.1 miles of fiber cabling are used for the Red Bull Stratos communications solution.
ABOUT RIEDEL COMMUNICATIONS
Riedel Communications – renowned for its pioneering advanced fiber, intercom and radio technology – provides the entire communications solution for the project, integrating both wireless and wired digital intercom systems. Additionally, Riedel furnishes the fiber-based video and signal distribution as well as the wireless video links to the capsule’s onboard cameras – enabling stunning pictures to be delivered from the Red Bull Stratos capsule. For more information: www.riedel.net