While the Edwards community awaited the arrival of Space Shuttle Endeavour Sept. 20 to appear out of the blue sky on its final approach, FlightLine Films aerospace cinematographer Jay Nemeth carefully tracked NASA’s shuttle carrier aircraft at approximately 30 miles out, testing his high-tech camera equipment in preparation for the highly anticipated Red Bull Stratos history-making skydive attempt by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner.
Already in the Antelope Valley working on final preparations for the mission, FlightLine Films personnel were welcomed on base to test their ground tracking system before the big jump, currently scheduled for some time in October, after the first attempt was aborted due to high winds.
“We were in the California area and heard the Endeavour was coming. Edwards was gracious enough to let us come out and test some of our equipment on the landing,” said Nemeth. “The weather was great and we were already working in the Palmdale area, doing the final configuration of the Red Bull Stratos capsule. We were lucky enough to be able to get on base and get that footage.”
According to Nemeth, the uniquely configured system is one of many that will provide optical situational awareness to Red Bull Stratos flight controllers, give world-wide viewers the opportunity to watch the live telecast, and in the future be used as archival footage for documentary purposes.
“There are several uses for the footage; situational awareness for flight controllers, which is pretty much how the ranges do it and the other is because Red Bull Media House is a media company, the live telecast and archival footage can be used for documentaries especially the film that will air on the BBC and National Geographic Channel shortly after the jump. We are concerned with the traditional technical aspect, just like the ranges. Not only are we compatible with how ranges conduct optical tracking, but we have to create these compelling images. We have to tell the story of the mission,” said Nemeth.
To help tell the mission’s story and provide situational awareness for flight controllers, FlightLine Films will use some of the most high-tech, advanced cameras and tracking systems available.
“These are long-range optical tracking systems, which basically consist of high-powered telescopes with a variety of cameras. We have one high-definition camera, one high frame rate, which we call a high-speed engineering camera and an infrared camera. These cameras have an equivalent to an 8,000 millimeter lens,” said Nemeth.
Typically the most powerful telephoto camera lens available on the market is an 800 mm lens, ten times less than what will be used on the Red Bull Stratos project. What will be used for the project could be compared to the Hubble Telescope of telephoto lenses.
“We’re able to pick up an aircraft 30 miles out, easily see details on the International Space Station when it flies over. On the Red Bull Stratos project, we’ll be able to see a man-sized object, namely Felix as he steps off the capsule at 120,000 feet,” said Nemeth.
There will also be nine high-definition cameras; three digital cinematography cameras and three high-resolution digital still cameras in the capsule and on Baumgartner’s full pressure suit there will also be five small high-definition video cameras strategically placed with one on his chest and the other four located on his legs.
“Once he steps off the capsule, about three seconds later he is out of the range of the cameras on the capsule and we provide the only optical situational awareness for what Felix is doing as he descends,” said Nemeth.
Baumgartner’s jump will attempt to break retired Air Force colonel, Joseph Kittinger’s world-record for highest skydive, achieved in 1960 under Project Excelsior. Kittinger’s record is 102,800 feet and although he came close to breaking the sound barrier during the free-fall, the Red Bull Stratos project will serve as the first time someone has done so. Kittinger also serves as Capcom I, the sole voice in Felix’s ear throughout the entire mission.
In addition to setting a record for the first person to break the sound barrier during free-fall, the jump will also set records for highest skydive altitude, the longest free-fall, and the highest altitude for manned balloon flight.
Just as Kittinger’s jump recorded critical data for high-altitude egress for aircraft such as Lockheed’s U-2, Baumgartner’s jump will take it to the next level by not only achieving four world records, but it will play a critical role in gathering information for egress in the vacuum of space.