Riedel Keeps Baumgartner in Touch During Epic Stratos Skydive
Felix Baumgartner’s skydive from 121,100 ft. in the air was no small feat, but staying in contact with the daredevil from the ground and capturing his experience may have been just as tall an order. The talk task sat squarely on the shoulders of Riedel Communications, which provided the audio/video-transport solution the capsule that carried Baumgartner into the stratosphere, as well as the entire communications infrastructure for the Red Bull Stratos operation — both on the ground and in the sky.
“It was a totally different experience than anything I’ve ever seen before,” says Matthias Leister, head of broadcast solutions, Riedel Communications. “Basically, we put a medium-size OB truck inside a small pressure housing in the capsule. And we also provided all the communications within mission control, between mission control and Felix, and for all the teams on the ground. It was a major challenge, but it obviously worked out well in the end.”
Red Bull Media House produced live feed of the supersonic jump, drawing a record 8 million concurrent streams on YouTube and airing on more than 80 TV outlets in 50 countries. By the time he landed safely on the ground, Baumgartner had set the record for longest free fall and become the first human to break the sound barrier (with a peak speed of 833.9 mph — 1.24 times the speed of sound).
Riedel’s efforts in Roswell, NM, during the dive can be split up into three capacities: the audio/video payload system and infrastructure inside the capsule itself, the fiber-based MediorNet transport system for all video/audio/data signals, and the intercom matrix for all communications on the ground and with the airborne capsule.
The OB Truck Inside the Capsule
Riedel provided the on-board video-control and -transmission system for nine HD cameras, which were transmitted live to the Red Bull Stratos operation on the ground for the live stream. In addition, Riedel supplied the control system for the additional three RED ONE cinema cameras (with MX sensors), three still cameras, and 13 Panasonic P2 recorders. This system essentially served as a digital video router, offering complete remote control of the whole video system and featuring three HD video downlinks that could be switched among the nine cameras.
“Riedel engineers developed the software that allowed [mission control] to switch any of the nine HD cameras to any of the three video downlinks,” says Leister. “It was capable of starting and stopping recorders inside the capsule, as well as doing color balance, gain, and shutter control on the cameras.”
The company also developed the overall telemetry and control system for the on-board payload, which was located in a keg-like pressurized housing atop the capsule.
“We used a single dual-digital radio link to control all devices [in the capsule], which is something that a standard system is simply not capable of,” says Leister. “We were able to control the video downlinks so that, in case of any RF issues, we would be able to switch the frequencies of the video downlinks. Switching so many different devices and brands from different manufacturers through one system hasn’t been done before like this that I have ever seen.”
MediorNet Ties It All Together on the Ground
All video signals on ground for the Red Bull Stratos project were distributed and routed with Riedel’s MediorNet fiber-based real-time network for HD video, audio, comms, and data signals. Riedel installed 24 MediorNet nodes in a redundant ring topology to prevent signal dropouts. In case of a potential connection loss between two nodes, the signals would have still been distributed thanks to the redundancy.
The MediorNet backbone tied together the entire Red Bull Stratos compound, including mission control, Lyon MU-8 production truck, two FlightLine optical tracking trucks, capsule launchpad, and the Riedel trailer where the downlinks were fed. In addition, the telemetry data used for some broadcast applications (Moving Map, Baumgartner’s speed, oxygen level, etc.) was transported via MediorNet. MediorNet also served as the network backbone for on-site Ethernet connectivity in all areas of the compound.
“It was the backbone for the whole production,” says Leister. “All the signals were provided between mission control and OB truck on the Mediornet, as well as the radio communication. Without that, the overall wiring and infrastructure, the mission itself and [the live production] would have been much more complex and difficult.”
The MediorNet system was composed of Riedel PURE tactical fiber cable equipped with Neutrik OpticalCON Quad connectors.
Communications on the Ground and in the Sky
Communication between the various entities on the ground and the skyward capsule were key to both the mission and the live production. With that in mind, Red Bull tapped Riedel’s Artist Digital Matrix fiber-based comms system to unite the entire compound, including mission control, the production offices, the media/press center, and Lyon MU-8.
Furthermore, Riedel furnished the on-site digital radio network with more than 100 radio receivers and 10 channels, which were seamlessly integrated into the wired matrix intercom system. This allowed radio users to talk directly to intercom users and vice versa.
Riedel also provided an on-site digital encrypted radio network with nearly 150 radio receivers and 14 channel groups, allowing radio users to communicate with Baumgartner inside the capsule. The company also supplied the radio system housed inside his chest pack and used to communicate during the freefell.
“Unfortunately, the free-fall radio system was not as powerful as in the capsule because we did not have that large battery system. So we used steered antenna on these optical tracking trucks that were tracking Felix during his freefell and relayed the communication signal through a TV tower in [the nearby town of] Caprock[, NM]. That tower relayed the signal between mission control and the tracking truck.”