When the SpaceX Demo-2 launched astronauts into orbit in 2020, millions of viewers tuned into the NASA-TV livestream and satellite broadcast to watch the monumental crewed spaceflight. From capturing landmark events, like the Curiosity Mars Rover landing, to delivering video feeds from the International Space Station, NASA-TV broadcasts live coverage and educational programming that captivates and educates audiences with the latest in space exploration, missions and discoveries. AJA recently sat down with Video Engineer Walt Lindblom from the NASA Imagery Experts Group to discuss the latest developments at NASA-TV and explore the recent integration of KUMO 1616-12G into the team’s production flypack.
Tell us about the NASA Imagery Experts group.
The NASA Imagery Experts group was formed in 1997 under the mission of guiding television operations into digital and HD content. Over the years, our scope of work has grown to include streaming, still imagery and engineering and scientific imagery. We manage NASA-TV’s public and media channels over satellite and streaming, in addition to testing all equipment and production systems and providing technical guidance for all of NASA’s digital video operations.
What types of content do you capture and broadcast?
NASA has been capturing UltraHD content since 2008, and for several years a digital cinema camera has recorded video aboard the ISS. All major activities at NASA are recorded on any given day for documentation, scientific and engineering purposes, and all releasable content can end up on any of our platforms. The NASA Office of Communications decides what is newsworthy or of public interest and selects what content to run on the NASA-TV channels.
What is NASA-TV’s typical viewership?
Our daily viewers are routinely space fans and enthusiasts who are eager to consume whatever content we produce. For major events, like the SpaceX Demo-2 launch or Mars Curiosity landing, viewership rises from tens of thousands to multi-millions, requiring streaming services that carry NASA-TV to add additional bandwidth. Footage we obtained of the 2017 total solar eclipse was used worldwide in media coverage.
What preparations does the team take prior to an event?
Preparations vary widely based on the event. Live video from the ISS is typically broadcast three times per week and is handled by the Johnson Space Center; personnel consider ISS events to be routine business. Gearing up for a crewed launch at the Kennedy Space Center requires approximately one week of lead time for setup and rehearsals. If we are deploying the flypack for an event, we generally arrive four days prior.
Can you discuss your flypack upgrade from HD to UltraHD?
The original flypack was a two-camera HD production system that weighed in at one ton on three pallets, taking up the same amount of space as a fully loaded cargo van. When we upgraded to UltraHD, we needed a smaller and lighter flypack that the team could more easily and affordably ship via commercial shippers, either by truck or overnight. The new flypack is a portable, three-camera UltraHD production system that leverages 12G-SDI. By upgrading the cabling from copper to SMPTE Hybrid camera cables, we were able to drop the flypack’s weight to about 1600 lbs. While every deployment of the UltraHD flypack has included additional equipment (a larger audio board, extra intercom gear, etc.), the new system is lighter and more compact, fitting into a minivan with two people and luggage and weighing in around 700 lbs.