We were all blown away by the live coverage aerospace company SpaceX put on during the Falcon Heavy launch. Here’s how they did it.

Cover image via SpaceX.

This past week, SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket, which can lift a payload of over 64 metric tons, into orbit, and dropped off the payload of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster. This launch sets off a new generation of space exploration, which is now being executed by private companies.

I grew up about 5 minutes away from the Johnson Space Center and my family on both sides are filled with NASA engineers that worked on the Apollo missions, Shuttle launches, and the prototype International Space Station called SkyLab. Needless to say, I have always been fascinated with space travel. After NASA cut its shuttle program hope seemed bleak, but then came SpaceX, the “cool little brother” of the space program. With SpaceX came exciting new technology and a live stream of every launch that fills the audience with the same type of pride and wonder that I experienced as a kid watching shuttle launches with my family.

There are two things that blew me away during the Falcon Heavy livestream: The tracking shots of the rockets lifting into orbit, and the live stream of the Tesla parading through space. Here is how they pulled off these technological feats.

Tracking the Rocket

It may not come as a surprise that there is some powerful equipment at play when it comes to tracking the rocket. If you tried using a typical camera-tripod set up and tracked the rocket manually, you would get unbelievably shaky footage because of the enormous distance the rocket is from you and the speed it is traveling. That is why SpaceX utilized NASA’s technology for tracking their own rockets, the Kineto Tracking Mount.

Image via Wiki Commons.

This beast is one of the best tracking rigs in the business. In the past, a skilled operator controlled the Kineto mount, but now it can function automatically and adjust remotely. The stabilization and steady tracking of the Kineto rig is what provides SpaceX with the smooth shots of their rockets cascading into space for their live streams.

Tesla Live Shots

One of the most impressive feats of this launch was the insane view from Elon Musk’s personal Tesla as it floated through space, blasting classic David Bowie tracks with a dummy in the driver’s seat. The reason they shot a Tesla into space was for one, advertising, because what other car company can say that they have one of their models speeding through space? The other reason was to showcase the Falcon Heavy’s capabilities of releasing objects into orbit with ease.

Recording the live stream was quite a simple set-up. There were 3 cameras attached to the car from the front, the side, and one POV camera behind the “Tesla-naut.” These cameras broadcasted a signal to headquarters, and that signal was included in the live stream to display the successful drop-off. For those who are skeptical of these shots, here’s Elon Musk explaining why they look so crisp:

About the sharp colours of the pictures, Musk says that it is because of space itself. He admitted that the photos are difficult to take at face value but space lacks the interference of particles found in the Earth’s atmosphere. He said, “I  think it looks so ridiculous and impossible. And you can tell it’s real because it looks so fake, honestly. We’d have way better CGI if it was fake. And you know, the colours all kind of look weird in space, there’s no atmospheric occlusion – everything looks too crisp”

Quote via Wonderful Engineering

It’s kind of weird to think that the skepticism comes from such a clear picture quality, but that’s what happens when there is no atmospheric interference with your videos.

We thank SpaceX for giving us something to take pride in and believe in, just like the past generations felt while watching the first space pioneers take their first steps on the moon. We can’t wait to see what you have for us in the future.