The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, was a once-in-a-lifetime event, the first and last time most Americans will get to experience an eclipse of this scale in the continental United States. NASA's mission was to produce a broadcast of several different video feeds and stream them live to several strategic destinations on NASA TV and social media. I was brought in to implement the broadcast system.
Teradek was a critical component to our delivery. Our goal was to provide the projected massive audience with five different viewing options: the regular eclipse program and four additional feeds from our telescopes. We needed to distribute these feeds to every major video platform to reach as many viewers as possible. After integrating five Teradek Cube encoders and a Core system, we had the infrastructure to accomplish this ambitious goal.
Our base of operations was the SUNLab mobile solar observatory, which was designed by Lunt Solar Systems for advanced solar imaging. A 20-inch heliostat delivered a beam of sunlight into the lab, where it entered our three main telescopes for capturing the eclipse in three different wavelengths: H-Alpha, Calcium-K and white light. A 6K monochrome RED EPIC Dragon camera was mounted on each telescope to capture video. Each camera went HD-SDI monochrome out, where several 3D LUT devices including Teredek COLR Duo were used to apply specific color palettes to the different wavelengths. From there, each HD-SDI feed went through Teradek Cube encoders and streamed to our Core account, giving us a simple interface to manage our multiple streams. Through Core, we delivered each stream to its own dedicated NASA Ustream channel.
At the same time, the three RED cameras recorded 6K FF R3D image data at 80 fps for on-site post-processing into a 4K/UHD time lapse video. The video sequences were sent to Core and ultimately to another Ustream channel.
Finally, our main eclipse program feed—with host, speakers and interviews—was sourced from a production switcher to our on-site closed captioning device. From there, we pushed the feed to a distribution amplifier, which distributed the feeds to a PBS satellite truck and a NASA-TV satellite truck. With the final Cube, the program feed went to Core and then was simulcast to 14 different destinations, adding up to 18 destinations total.
NASA had been planning this ambitious broadcasting project since 2016, and seeing it all come together was truly rewarding for us. Teradek was crucial to making it all possible. Anticipating viewers on a global scale, we needed a solution that would not only seamlessly integrate into our image processing workflow, but also provide a robust stream for millions of people.
When the views started pouring in on the day of the eclipse, the Cubes (and Core) worked perfectly and helped us to deliver stunning eclipse imagery to more than 25 million people worldwide. We're glad to have chosen Teradek to provide a reliable streaming solution, and are looking forward to future collaborations with the company.
Stephen Pizzo is a freelance director of photography and astrophotographer commissioned by NASA for the eclipse broadcast. See his Instagram gallery at @longtech.elsewhere.