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AV Skydives with Felix Baumgartner, Part 1

Dec 6, 2012 12:47 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

When Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space, Riedel Communications was handling comm lines, video, and radio links for the whole project. Matthias Liester of Reidel is here to give us a fascinating look behind the scenes at the tech setup for the world’s only supersonic skydive, coming up right now on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Matthias, it’s great to have you on the SVC Podcast from Riedel, coming to us all the way from Germany today, and as we’re recording this you’ve just gotten back home and your team is still unpacking gear from the big Red Bull Stratos jump with Felix Baumgartner leaping from a balloon at around 128,000ft. over Roswell, N.M. They called in Riedel to handle a very big job with this. So let’s rewind a little bit. When you got the call from the Red Bull Stratos people, what did the project team need from Riedel?

Matthias Liester: Yeah, the first call I got basically that was in 2009 was for basic communication for the event crew and mission control, so all I could think of was probably a size of 30 intercom panels and a few radios, up to 100 radios, with potentially eight radio channels. That was my idea so far before I got to really meet the whole team and understood what’s truly necessary. [Timestamp: 1:46]

They had a lot of different technical requirements, but I was curious about the cameras carried on the capsule. They had cameras everywhere. Were those specially made cameras?

No, the cameras were actually not special. It’s the same camera type—the LMP HD1200. It’s the same camera type that we already used for the Red Bull Air Races years ago, but of course what we needed to do is prove that these kind of cameras will survive in this environment that we were going to fly issue and that was a step that we needed to go first. [Timestamp: 2:21]

I understand that you had a control system and that you could switch back and forth between the cameras that were connected to the downlink. So how did you control the cameras and record the video from each one?

Yeah, that actually was a special developed system from our engineers here in Wuppertal. What we did is we had a 2-channel digital radio system capable of talking to a controller that was inside the capsule and this controller had the capabilities of start, stop, recording, do the color balance of the cameras, and such, and all that remote controlled in mission control. [Timestamp: 3:00]

OK and they had cameras and sound, and this is, of course, a pretty hostile environment and the transmission link was quite a distance since the capsule I think floated some 50 miles or so away. What was the transmission power used to cover the distance?

Yeah, the power for transmitters actually wasn’t that high. It was only 5W COFDM RF output, so the benefit that we used was a very good tracking antenna on the ground and high gain antennas under the capsule. [Timestamp: 3:34]

So what you don’t have in the air you make up for on the ground with the size and power of pulling it all in.


Where was the downlink on the ground? Was the recording done in remote trucks or was it done in mission control or how did all that work?

Actually we had two downlinks or two receive sites on the ground. One was beside mission control. It was near our office. The second one was out in the field where the optical tracking trucks were placed and both of these ground RX sites were capable of receiving all of the video signals. One was fed into a MediorNet system directly on the compound and the other one was used via a point-to-point link and also then put into a MediorNet system. What we did then is used ASI switch to determine what is the best signal we currently have and then put it into our decoders for providing that signal from mission control in the OB truck and that OB truck was obviously the point where the signals were recorded afterwards. [Timestamp: 4:24]

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