As with pretty much all rocket launches these days, space fans are spoiled with stunning footage of the start of each mission as the rocket soars into the sky at incredible speed.
If you’ve ever wondered how the pictures are captured, then a video from new YouTuber Primal Space does a great job in explaining.
The video kicks off by showing the sort of setup required if you were trying to get the same kind of footage using a regular DSLR camera. First up, you’d need something like a 10,000mm lens (sorry, you’ll have to build it yourself) for the rocket to fill the frame for a good part of its ascent.
But even then, forget tracking it manually. A massive focal length likes that means every little movement would be magnified to such an extent that your footage would be a total mess, as a clip in the video nicely shows.
Having explained just how accurate and precise the tracking has to be, Primal Space’s video goes on to explain about the kind of technology used for today’s launches.
Each of the main launch pads in the U.S. is surrounded by several long-range tracking cameras that look more like missile launchers than photography equipment. In fact, there is a warfare connection here, as each setup is actually part of a Kineto tracking mount initially developed by the military to track aircraft and missiles.
In the early ’70s, rigs like this would be controlled by skilled operators, Primal Space explains. But as you’d expect, many of the tracking functions now take place automatically, enabling reliable footage of every rocket launch.
And all that detailed footage isn’t simply to entertain audiences sitting at home. For the engineers behind the missions, the videos provide vital information on the state of the launch and the rocket’s performance as it climbs in the sky.
“NASA uses a mix of digital and film cameras on these mounts,” the narrator says. “The short-range tracking cameras make use of a high-speed frame rate and shutter speeds, which are useful for rocket companies to analyze their rockets in great detail during the launch sequence.”
Such footage helped investigators to work out the cause of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, leading to changes to enhance the shuttle’s safety for subsequent flights.
The video also notes how the launch pads now have the very latest video technology for amazingly detailed live-streams of today’s rocket launches.
“The method behind filming and broadcasting a rocket launch is actually very difficult,” the narrator says. “As the technology of the tracking systems and the cameras continue to improve, we can look forward to seeing more amazing shots like this.”