Battling bandwidth in space: 4K tech boosts research at NASA


Commander and NASA astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson broke a record last week for logging more time in space than any other astronaut in U.S. history. A few days after speaking with President Trump via phone, she added another milestone by live streaming with Sam Blackman (pictured, left), co-founder and chief executive officer of AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services company, in the first ultra-HD 4K video stream from space during the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“The amount of technology that came into play to make this possible, you know sitting in the conference room at NAB, in the middle of Las Vegas, seeing astronauts 250 miles overhead, going around the earth at 17,000 miles an hour and a seamless, beautiful 4K picture — it was mind blowing,” Blackman said.

Lisa Martin (@Luccazara), co-host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, had the opportunity to interview Blackman and astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson (pictured, center) during the NAB Show shortly after the live stream. (* Disclosure below.)

This week, Sam Blackman and Tracy Caldwell Dyson are theCUBE’s Guests of the Week.

Out-of-this-world technology

Describing the experience as “transformative,” Blackman spoke about the interview conducted with Whitson and her fellow astronaut Col. Jack Fisher. The pair explained the role of ultra-HD 4K imaging technology in the space program, saying that it is useful in performing experiments in space. Plus, it has the added value of having the capability of transmitting the information from the space station down to Earth, allowing researchers to use the data for further discoveries in the Universe.

Blackman illustrated how the technology comes together to create incredible pictures. Amazon Elemental placed a live 4K encoder on the space station, which sent down signals to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, which in turn sent redundant links to Las Vegas and the convention center for processing, enabling an out-of-this-world conversation.

“These 4K images, which take a significant amount of bandwidth, can be created in space, delivered here, produced and delivered anywhere in the world, using the power of the cloud and advanced networking technology. And that pretty amazing when you think about it,” Blackman stated.

Rebranded Amazon Elemental after being acquired by Amazon in 2015, Elemental Technologies originally pioneered the use of graphics processors to power adaptive video streaming over IP networks and is a supplier of video solutions for multiscreen content delivery.

Amazon Elemental Cloud is a Platform as a Service that manages high-volume video solutions with built-in security. The flexibility and scalability of the cloud enables ultra-HD 4K technology to perform in all the verticals the company serves, Blackman explained.

A bird’s-eye view providing inspiration

Using this technology, NASA produces breathtaking videos, which is available on the agency’s Ultra High Definition Video gallery. Caldwell-Dyson, an astronaut who spent 188 days in space and has traveled to the space station on the Soyuz during Expeditions 23 and 24 believes the ultra-HD 4K technology helps to bring the experience of space to everybody on Earth.

Caldwell-Dyson expressed the awe she has looking at our planet from 250 miles above and noted that imaging capabilities of the 4K technology provide more detail than she could ever describe. “It is so hard to capture what we are not just seeing but experiencing. The richness, the detail, the vividness of the colors and how they are changing are all a part of looking at our beautiful planet,” she said.

She hopes that the imagery will inspire the future generation by capturing their imagination and encouraging them to explore space. “If you could bring parts of that experience to people back home, I’m excited to think about how that would transform the way people think, not to mention the way that they act toward our planet,” said Caldwell-Dyson

Mars being the new destination for exploration, Caldwell-Dyson met with President Trump in March as he signed a NASA authorization bill. She can see how the momentum of the imaging technology is helping to engage the next generation.

Caldwell-Dyson credits Hollywood’s efforts in portraying space exploration along with NASA imagery from the human spaceflight program and the Hubble program’s deep space images as enticing young people to start thinking about going to Mars.

“So if we can continue to feed them the images as lifelike as we can so that they feel they’re there, I think we are heading in the right direction to actually being there,” Caldwell-Dyson said.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s independent editorial coverage of the NAB Show. (* Disclosure: Western Digital is sponsoring theCUBE’s coverage at the show. Neither Western Digital nor other sponsors have editorial influence on content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE