Remotely controlled cameras and widely dispersed intercom communications have played a key role for different types of production and live broadcast applications for many years based on their ability to cover areas that are impossible or impractical for a human. But none to date has reached the heights of the system developed to document, in real time, the world’s record for a freefall skydive and, it turns out, the first human to break the sound barrier without vehicular power.
Felix Baumgartner’s skydive from the edge of space in October 2012 captivated millions of viewers as they watched nervously via the Internet and other IP-connected devices as he stepped off his flying platform and plunged to Earth. Baumgartner, a highly experienced extreme base jumper and skydiver, ascended to 24mi in a stratospheric balloon that lasted about two hours and then fell 121,100ft in 4 minutes, 20 seconds.
Throughout the Red Bull-endorsed record-breaking jump, the mission control ground crew was able to stay in touch with him and share his experience with the world.
That’s because several technical teams at Riedel Communications, based in Germany, worked closely with Baumgartner and his team in the U.S. and elsewhere during a series of test skydives over a three-year period prior to the historic leap. Riedel provided most of the technology used for the audio/video-transport system — including both wireless and wired digital intercom systems — mounted inside the Red Bull Stratos capsule that carried Baumgartner into the stratosphere, as well as the entire communications infrastructure for the Red Bull Stratos project.
The company’s system engineers also designed and supplied fiber-based video and signal distribution and wireless video links that allowed the captivating pictures from the capsule’s onboard cameras to be transmitted back to the ground with very low latency. (The signal is coded and decoded for the wireless transport, which naturally caused some latency in the video by the time it reached Earth.)
Matthias Leister, head of broadcast solutions at Riedel Communications, said his team outfitted a small pressure housing (about the size of a full beer keg) inside the capsule with enough equipment to satisfy a medium-size mobile production truck. This turned out to be a major challenge as size and weight restrictions limited them in a number of technical areas.