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Scientific presentation notes optics components of record skydive
Friday, September 20th, 2013
Issue 38, Volume 17.
While some consider the Red Bull Stratos Project to be a stunt, the photographic documentation of Baumgartner during his descent allows for scientific applications which may aid future involuntary aircraft or spacecraft evacuees and may also assess physiological effects on voluntary skydivers.
The professional scientific society SPIE, which focuses on optical science technology, invited cinematographers Dennis Fisher and Jay Nemeth to SPIE’s annual meeting Aug. 25-29 at the San Diego Convention Center.
Fisher and Nemeth spoke at an Aug. 27 plenary session; the presentation "The Optical Mission Behind the Stratos Project" featured an inside look at the goals, challenges, and lessons learned from the optical imaging standpoint.
"It was truly an exciting project," Fisher said.
More than 35 visible-range and infrared cameras were used, including nine on the capsule from which Baumgartner jumped. The optical scientists worked for four years to develop and test the necessary systems and equipment.
"At times it seemed to drag on forever," Fisher said. "In the end it just turned out fantastic."
Fisher is the founder of Genesis Applied Imaging, an optics consulting company focusing on range optical systems and their application, and has more than 40 years of experience as a photographer, cinematographer, and range optics manager and engineer.
Fisher spearheaded the design of the Joint Launch vehicle and Aircraft Imaging in Real time (JLAIR) optical tracking units which became the world’s first self-powered tracking pedestal/control room/satellite uplink units integrated onto a single vehicle chassis, and he serves as the FlightLine Films tracking supervisor on JLAIR operations.
FlightLine Films was created by Nemeth in 2007. Nemeth has worked as an aerial cinematographer since 1984 and also has experience rigging and designing camera systems. His experience includes filming in zero-gravity and high-gravity environments, giving him knowledge of specific camera systems which work well under those conditions. In addition to designing camera systems for flight vehicles, Nemethalso designs systems for full pressure suits and for ground-based optical tracking of aircraft and launch vehicles.
Fisher approached SPIE for technical solutions in 2009. He knew the systems would need to be constructed near the launch area, which for Baumgartner’s descent would be the airport in Roswell, New Mexico.
"It’s not a very active airport. There are only a few flights a day in and out of there," Fisher said.
The mission control center was in a remote area of the airport, so equipment durable enough to travel over pavement-impaired roads was one of the requirements.
The options reviewed included test range and rental equipment as well as a custom-built system.
"We ended up going with the build-it-ourselves program," Fisher said.
The group utilized off-the-shelf items in building the camera system.
"We just didn’t have the time to build something from scratch," Fisher said.
Instantaneous data transmission was also needed, especially for the infrared cameras.
"It was important that we could get them that image in real time," Nemeth said.
The real-time data also included speed, altitude, and Baumgartner’s physiological conditions which were being monitored. Near-term weather predictions determined whether or not a flight would take place (it was coincidental that Baumgartner’s supersonic travel occurred on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s 1947 aircraft flight which made Yeager the first person to break the sound barrier), and atmospheric temperature data was also part of the monitoring.
Temperature range was also important in the logistics of the cameras - and the camera components.
"Batteries don’t last very long in the cold," Nemeth said.
The airborne optics also needed screens for protection from the sun’s radiation.
The needs also included ground-based camera mobility in case Baumgartner or the balloon which lifted the capsule was not on course. The documentation included three unmanned flights involving the balloon and capsule only as well as Baumgartner’s test descent from 28,000 feet and the record-breaking jump.
Nemeth wasn’t satisfied with just fulfilling the technical requirements.
"We also wanted to meet all the storytelling requirements," he said.
Nemeth indicated that he would be willing to return to next year’s SPIE annual conference if he was invited.
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