Pictures from the edge of space

Last month, Level 3’s Vyvx Solutions were an integral part of the technology that brought live pictures of Felix Baumgartner’s historic skydive to viewers all over the world.

In some sense this is what we do all day, every day. The Red Bull Stratos Event is just one of many sporting, news and other events at locations all over the world that we help to distribute. But in another sense, this was a lot different.

How do you get live pictures from a capsule on the edge of space? How do you get live pictures from Felix himself as he free-falls through the sound barrier?

When we take live production feeds out of, say, a large sports venue, the process is relatively easy. The broadcaster has a number of cameras installed around the venue. They are physically cabled to the production truck that is parked in the venue’s loading dock. The product team creates the final produced feed, along with embedded adverts and graphic overlays. Then a cable from the production truck is plugged into a Vyvx VenueNet+ panel and we carry those pictures wherever they need to go.

The picture below gives you a sense of how different the setup for the Redbull Stratos event was.

Picture from the Edge of Space - Vyvx

Much of the technology used to get pictures to mission control was developed especially for this event or used for the first time:

  • Nine HD cameras in the capsule had a specially developed telemetry system to allow for remote control of what was essentially a large DVR system in the capsule plus the three video feeds back to the ground
  • A helicopter with a Cineflex camera, gyro stabilised, and a microwave video feed back to the ground
  • A system called Joint Long-range Aerospace Imaging and Relay (JLAIR) that is essentially a set of 4K cameras linked to a huge, stabilized, set of telescopes all mounted on an enormous truck.

Technology for Pictures of Space - Vyvx

That is just a sample of the technologies deployed. To see more, check out this link.

So all that, and more, was used to get live pictures to the production crew at the landing site. The produced feed was then sent up to a satellite and downlinked at Level 3’s teleport in California. From there, the feed was carried across our fiber network to recipient broadcasters all over the world. We also re-uplinked it to another satellite with a footprint covering the entire Americas region for those not connected to our fiber. We also carried the feed under the Atlantic, across Europe to the Middle East and to another satellite uplink facility. From there it was uplinked yet again for satellites with footprints over Europe and Asia.

NOC in Vyvx NYC during Stratos Event

This picture is a snapshot of a tiny part of our network operations center in New York during the event. Although this was all relatively straightforward for us, there were two complexities to deal with. The first was the fact that the actual event date changed several times due to the weather. Each time the distribution design I described above had to change as the broadcasters involved and their requirements changed. In addition, we had to manage all this while also managing hundreds of other breaking news events and some very important sports events in the U.S.!

RedBull Stratos did a fantastic job pulling together a hugely complex logistical and technological feat. Level 3 is proud to have played a small part in what turned out to be a flawless event.

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Mark Taylor

I work as VP of Content and Media here at Level 3. English expat and passionate new tech energy evangelist.

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