It’s hard to deny the beauty of images of Earth captured from outer space. And NASA and partner Harmonic agree, boldly going where no one has gone before — creating NASA TV UHD, the first non-commercial consumer UHD channel in North America. Leveraging the resolution of ultra high definition, the channel gives viewers a front row seat to some gorgeous views captured from the International Space Station (ISS), other current NASA missions and remastered historical footage.
We recently reached out to Joel Marsden, executive producer of NASA TV UHD, to find out how this exciting new endeavor reached “liftoff.”
This was obviously a huge undertaking. How did you get started and how is the channel set up?
The new channel was launched with programming created from raw video footage and imagery supplied by NASA. Since that time, Harmonic has also shot and contributed 4K footage, including video of recent rocket launches. They provide the end-to-end UHD video delivery system and post production services while managing operations. It’s all hosted at a NASA facility managed by Encompass Digital Media in Atlanta, which is home to the agency’s satellite and NASA TV hubs.
Like the current NASA TV channels, and on the same transponder, NASA TV UHD is transmitted via the SES AMC-18C satellite, in the clear, with a North American footprint. The channel is delivered at 13.5Mbps, as compared with many of the UHD demo channels in the industry, which have required between 50 and 100 Mbps. NASA’s ability to minimize bandwidth use is based on a combination of encoding technology from Harmonic in conjunction with the next-generation H.265 HEVC compression algorithm.
Can you talk about how the footage was captured and how it got to you for post?
When the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 was created, one of the legal requirements of NASA was to keep the public apprised of its work in the most efficient means possible and with the ultimate goal of bringing everyone on Earth as close as possible to being in space. Over the years, NASA has used imagery as the primary means of demonstration. The group in charge of these efforts, the NASA Imagery Experts Program, provides the public with a wide array of digital television, web video and still images based on the agency’s activities. Today, NASA’s broadcast offerings via NASA TV include an HD consumer channel, an HD media channel and an SD education channel.
In 2015, the agency introduced NASA TV UHD. Naturally, NASA archives provide remastered footage from historical missions and shots from NASA’s development and training processes, all of which are used for production of broadcast programming. In fact, before the agency launched NASA TV, it had already begun production of its own documentary series, based on footage collected during missions.
Just five or six years ago, NASA also began documenting major events in 4K resolution or higher. The agency has been using 6K Red Dragon digital cinema cameras for some time. NASA TV UHD video content is sourced from high-resolution images and video generated on the ISS, Hubble Space Telescope and other current NASA missions. The raw content files are then sent to Harmonic for post.
Can you walk us through the workflow?
Raw video files are mailed on physical discs or sent via FTP from a variety of NASA facilities to Harmonic’s post studio in San Jose and stored on the Harmonic MediaGrid system, which supports an edit-in-place workflow with Final Cut Pro and other third-party editing tools.
During the content processing phase, Harmonic uses Adobe After Effects to paint out dead pixels that result from the impact of cosmic radiation on camera sensors. They have built bad-pixel maps that they use in post production to remove the distracting white dots from the picture. The detail of UHD means that the footage also shows scratches on the windows of the ISS through which the camera is shooting, but these are left in for authenticity.
A Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve is used to color grade footage, and Maxon Cinema 4D Studio is used to create animations of images. Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Creative Suite are used to set the video to music and add text and graphics, along with the programming name, logo and branding.
Final programs are then transferred in HD back to the NASA teams for review, and in UHD to the Harmonic team in Atlanta to be loaded onto the Spectrum X for playout.
You can check out NASA TV’s offerings here.