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NASA to Provide Virgin Atlantic with State of the Art Video Communications

The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer project team has joined forces with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to test state-of-the-art live video communications equipment during the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer record attempt.  The equipment will enable pilot Steve Fossett to communicate more easily and effectively with Mission Control by providing clear live video images with audio from the aircraft back in Mission Control.
The equipment has been developed as part of NASA’s Space Based Telemetry and Range Safety System (STARS) project to design and develop communications equipment for reusable space craft (like the Space Shuttle).
Lisa Valencia, STARS Project Manager at NASA, commented:
“STARS is a multicentre NASA proof-of-concept project to determine if operational costs can be reduced and operational flexibility increased by using space-based communication systems to relay tracking data and vehicle telemetry from reusable launch vehicles to the ground, and to relay flight termination signals from the ground to a vehicle. 
“This equipment has the potential of reducing the cost and infrastructure of the current ground-based communication systems composed of numerous radar, telemetry and command control sites.  For the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer flight, the Space Based Telemetry and Range Safety System (STARS) experiment was modified to provide the capability of transmitting 113 kbps video data of the pilot during the three day world flight. ”
STARS is made up of a Range Safety System and a Range User System.  The Range Safety System sends tracking data from the vehicle to the ground via satellite and receives flight termination commands from the ground via satellite.  The Range User System sends high data rate vehicle telemetry from the vehicle to the ground via satellite.
Steve Fossett, pilot of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, said:
“I am delighted to be able to test this equipment onboard my round-the-world flight.  It is a fantastic opportunity to help NASA with equipment testing which could help technology for future space flights while also benefiting the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer record attempt.  This equipment will not only enhance communications between myself and Mission Control during the attempt but will also provide all those following the attempt through the website with up to the minute footage from the plane.”
To accomplish the task of transmitting 113 kbps video data of the pilot during the three day round-the-world flight, a video encoder and STARS hardware had to be combined into a consolidated unit and interfaced to the flight antenna and cockpit camera system on the aircraft.  The KSC ground station required modifications to decode the data stream (cockpit video signal) received from TDRS into a standard video stream. 
The KSC Telescience Lab supported the ground station redistribution of the cockpit video signal back to the Mission Control centre in Kansas. They also provided streaming video with encoded audio and still video captures, as well as the complete archival of the footage from the flight.