Reaching for the Stars: How AWS Elemental and NASA Delivered a Live 4K Video Feed from Space

With a 4K transmission workflow designed by AWS Elemental, NASA on April 26 delivered the first live 4K video stream from space.
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With a 4K transmission workflow designed by AWS Elemental, NASA on April 26 delivered the first live 4K video stream from space. In the live feed—encoded by AWS Elemental software on board the International Space Station (ISS) 250 miles above the Earth and on the ground at Johnson Space Center in Houston—NASA astronauts Dr. Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer on the ISS conversed live with AWS Elemental CEO Sam Blackman in Las Vegas.

The event, which also included an in-person panel discussion with scientists, technologists and storytellers about how advanced imaging and cloud technologies are advancing scientific research and filmmaking, took place at the 2017 NAB Show.

In the approximately 15-minute live transmission from space—the ISS traveled between Baja, Calif., and central Africa during this time—the astronauts discussed experiments taking place on the ISS and described the role video plays in them.

Astronaut Jack Fischer said, "With these new cameras and new technologies, we're able to get higher resolution and higher frame rates to capture our experiments, ultra-slow motion for some of the effects that are very short-lived yet very important. But I think even more important is the inspirational aspect, because 4K and ultra-high def actually make you feel like you're there.... Everybody wants to see the Earth from this vantage point. And by looking down at the Earth with this amazing new technology, we're able to inspire an entire new generation of explorers. I think probably the biggest impact that these technologies will have is bringing everyone else on the planet to see these amazing sights that we get to see every day and inspiring them to push beyond just living on Earth."

Following the conversation about the role video plays in facilitating the missions of NASA, the astronauts demonstrated experiments made possible in a zero-gravity environment.

Transmission Workflow

AWS designed and validated the workflow to bring the live 4K video stream from space to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and multiscreen devices everywhere. AWS designed three main workflows based on AWS Elemental software and AWS solutions. Aboard the ISS, a RED EPIC Dragon camera and AWS Elemental Live encoder anchored the first workflow as the AWS Elemental Live system encoded video in HEVC and sent it in a UDP transport stream via the ISS network into the Johnson Space Center.

From JSC, the 4K video was decoded and routed along with a separate audio feed to an AWS Elemental Live encoder, which encoded and sent the signal via the NASA network to an uplink facility for delivery via satellite to the Roberts Communications satellite downlink truck on site at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The signal was brought inside for live viewing on Christie 4K projectors at the NAB Show session.

Simultaneous to the live stream at the LVCC, the feed was available to the public on multiscreen devices everywhere. AWS Elemental Live systems sited at the LVCC furnished redundant transcoded adaptive bit rate streams to two separate regional AWS Elemental Cloud Delta instances. AWS Elemental Delta software packaged streams for IP delivery, and Amazon Route 53 routed the signals to the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network for delivery to multiscreen and connected devices at https://live.awsevents.com/nasa4k, with network monitoring performed by Amazon CloudWatch

Read more about AWS Elemental's work on this live 4K transmission from space in this white paper: www.elemental.com/pdfs/4415.

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