AV Skydives with Felix Baumgartner, Part 2

When Fearless Felix Baumgartner made his 128,000ft. leap, the whole world was watching and listening thanks to the video and sound links by Riedel Communications. 12/20/2012 10:28 AM Eastern

AV Skydives with Felix Baumgartner, Part 2

Dec 20, 2012 3:28 PM, With Bennett Liles

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When Fearless Felix Baumgartner made his 128,000ft. leap, the whole world was watching and listening thanks to the video and sound links by Riedel Communications. Coordinating the comm links for the ground crew was a huge job and Matthias Leister is back to take us inside the operation on the supersonic skydive, up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Matthias Leister, thanks for being back with us for part two on the SVC Podcast from Riedel coming to us all the way from Germany and we’re talking about the Red Bull Stratos supersonic skydive. For the communications system on the ground, how many radio receivers and communication channels were there? There was a lot going on, on the ground to support this.

Matthias Leister: Yeah, definitely, the overall team was I believe about 300 people. Almost every second had its own radio, so providing communication for these different groups meant to us providing 150 digital radios and about 14 channels provided for these several groups. [Timestamp: 1:28]

Now with all these people using all this gear you had to make sure they all knew how to operate it correctly. I know there were rehearsals and simulations and your guys were standing by to help with that, but I guess the Red Bull flight team took to it pretty well though.

Yeah it worked out pretty well. The whole really complex system for us was mission control. A mission control system in that kind, I believe, was not established from Reidel before since this new experience, with all these guys that were previously working for companies or organizations like the NASA, like the Air Force or other space projects, that was a kind of really new experience for us as well as for those people using our Artist intercom panel with 30 panels installed on missions control. So that was a nice new experience and of course there was some training necessary to meet the demands the people in mission control needed and of course for us [the] new experience of seeing how such mission control communication works. [Timestamp: 2:33]

And you have the benefit of the experience of how NASA always does it and they always have a private channel available from the vehicle to the ground that’s behind the scenes and not fed to the press. Did the Red Bull flight team have an intercom back channel between Felix and Kittinger like this?

Yes, of course. We also used a separate channel for a safe communication between Felix and a closer group in mission control. That was John Clark as well as Joe Kittinger in mission control. Nevertheless, during the mission or during all manned missions, we didn’t need it, this private channel, so we were lucky to provide all the communication to the OB truck. [Timestamp: 3:14]

Always one of those things where you’re glad you have it but don’t end up needing it. Let’s talk about some of your actual gear. How was the whole communications system tied together? That was the Riedel Artist Digital Matrix intercom system, right?

Exactly. We had a system of two digital Artist mainframes, both in the 32 frame size. One of them was located inside mission control to provide the communication there with over 30 intercom panels. The other Matrix were used in our Reidel office on the compound. That was for two reasons. One was providing the interface to the OB truck’s intercom and the second was providing intercom panels inside every, of the about 12 offices on the compound. So every office if it’s the medical, the edit office, offices from Sage Cheshire as such—every one of these offices had a special or their own intercom panel to on one hand gain latest information from mission control and on the other side are able to report back for any instance. [Timestamp: 4:23]

I know the Riedel system is pretty flexible in the way that you can set it up. Different network topologies can be used and mixed. How was the topology set up for this event to be as reliable as possible in the event of a node failure?

Yeah, our basic backbone on this event was Riedel MediorNet audio and video network that we established. That MediorNet network provided all the video and all the audio feeds as well as communication passes for our Artist Digital intercom on the whole compound. The topology that we used there was a dual fiber ring around this whole compound, so whenever we had a failure in this single link, we had the ring plus a redundant path on the same route, so the system was very redundant for that mission. [Timestamp: 5:14]

AV Skydives with Felix Baumgartner, Part 2

Dec 20, 2012 3:28 PM, With Bennett Liles

And of course the big advantage with MediorNet is that you can feed all types of signals into it, not just intercom but have everything in one system rather than having to set up something for video and something else for communications and having a bunch of redundant systems operating side by side.

That is true. The MediorNet system is a realtime network capable of switching HD video signals, multiple audio signals, and of course communication and Ethernet as well as serial data if we break it down to that. So the MediorNet system on site provided all the signals being switched between mission control and the OB truck or our Reidel office. The down links were included into that system and we even connected the edit room, the BBC’s office, the media station and such areas so everybody on the whole compound was capable of getting the signals they needed to have in realtime. [Timestamp: 6:13]

In part one we mentioned the hostile environment at the edge of space but you had a pretty hostile environment right there on the ground. I mean, you had all of this gear set up and operating out in the desert with heat and dust and wind. Did you have special fiber lines and connectors for the equipment out there?

Yes, indeed, what we used was a so called Pure XT cable that we provide since last year with a special kind of connector, the Neutrik OpticalCon Quad. So the combination of those both types, so that special cable with this connector really gave us the capabilities of getting the cables wired in the same way without any precaution but still all the connectors are very sealed. We didn’t have any problem with dirt inside the connectors and the system was really working properly and without any failures. [Timestamp: 7:09]

And we all know what dirt can do to fiber-optic systems and you’ve got plenty of dust and contaminants out there where it was happening. Was that system also used to carry other types of signals like GPS or telemetry?

Yes, the system itself transported multiple Ethernet streams as well as the Ethernet connection for the mission team. Other signals were the serial signals for the GPS. So these GPS signals were also received on the optical tracking sides as well and getting back to our receive side, these signals were transported through the MediorNet to mission control where they were needed. [Timestamp: 7:52]

OK and we know there were a lot of press people out there for this thing. How was the press feed set up? I mean how many recorders and cameras could be set up and accommodated by this system?

The overall amount of different recorders either if its video or just audio recorders could be almost anything. What we did was providing the generated press signal that was generated by the OB truck, we provided the signal inside the observer’s launch where all the media stayed during the mission and inside the observers launch we had capabilities for more than 32 independent audio recorders as well as the possibility to distribute the signals for the SNG broadcasters or other recorders at place. [Timestamp: 8:40]

There were rehearsals and simulations set up before each actual flight in the series to check out not only the equipment but the procedures as well. So how did all of that go? Did you have to make changes as a result of things that came up in the simulations?

Really major changes weren’t necessary. We had the typical adaptions inside mission control, so every one of our intercom panels inside mission control had 16 buttons with various functions and of course there were some adaptions made on people who were able to talk to several groups or mix new groups together. Other points that needed to change were obviously on the checklist for the flight, so even from man flight 2 to man flight 3 there needed to be some adaptions on that list just because the new size of the balloon needed to make adaptions there and change timing a bit. Nevertheless we had RF checks with the capsule outside on the flight, flight deck, and also full rehearsals with the full mission controls night before the launches really start. So the rehearsals were there to really check if everything’s on the list and if everything’s good for go. So there were minor changes but not big changes on the overall system. [Timestamp: 10:05]

Well, I know it was a big thrill being a part of it. You had a lot of gear and a lot of people to coordinate and once in the air there was no second chance and the pressure was on. So it’s all over and you’ve had a chance to regroup, so what’s coming up now for Riedel?

Yeah, of course, there are coming up a few projects. A few with onboard cameras, a so called “city challenge,” a new race series in Europe and other peak events. I can truly say that there’s probably no such project as Red Bull Stratos in the pipeline for the next year, but we’re happy to see what’s coming and there’s definitely another thrilling project in the future. [Timestamp: 10:46]

Matthias Leister from Riedel Communications. Thanks so much for joining us on the SVC Podcast with the details from the big Red Bull Stratos jump with Felix Baumgartner. I know it was a blast being there. Thanks for telling us about it.

Yeah. Thank you.

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