2nd AVS provides USAF’s first-ever 4K live broadcast during NASA’s OSIRIS-REx capsule landing

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sadie Colbert, 2D Audiovisual Squadron

MICHAEL ARMY AIRFIELD, Utah – NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, known as OSIRIS-REx, returned to Earth with the largest asteroid samples recovered from beyond the moon, Sept. 24.

While the 388th Fighter Wing’s Public Affairs office assigned to Hill AFB, UT, supports the UTTR, their team wasn’t equipped to support the capabilities NASA requested. The 2nd Audiovisual Squadron stepped up to meet the demand.

Headed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center team out of Maryland, the team launched the USA’s first asteroid sample collection mission out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2016. The rocket, known as Atlas V 411, used the Earth’s gravitational field to travel 1.2 billion miles to get to asteroid Bennu.

After traveling two years, the Atlas began a year-long, detailed survey of the asteroid, mapping and finding a prime spot to collect samples. The Atlas chose its final site and made contact, but to many scientists’ surprises, it was not entirely solid. Instead, it imitated a plastic ball pit with several solids grouped.

“The material that returned is uniquely relative to anything in the existing meteorite collection,” said Dr. Michael Moreau, NASA OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager. “Scientists all over the world are preparing to study the material and are excited to see what surprises it will have in store.”

After encountering Bennu, NASA scientists believed this discovery could point to how planet Earth formed to create and sustain life, answering one of mankind’s most asked question: ‘How did we come to exist?’

“NASA’s goal for science is to create a global community,” said Dr. Melissa Morris, NASA OSIRIS-REx program executive. “This is the largest sample collected from something beyond the moon. I’m excited to see these samples return.”

The collection was successful. However, launching OSIRIS-REx and obtaining the sample was only half the battle. The Atlas needed to make the two-year journey back and land without being destroyed in the process. The U.S. Air Force stepped in with its resources and provided a helping hand.

Known for its 2,624 square miles, the Utah Test and Training Range was selected by NASA as the location to welcome the collected materials to planet Earth.

“The UTTR is a beautiful place to land at. ‘Why?’” Dr. Rich Burns, NASA OSIRIS-REx project manager, rhetorically asked. “Because it’s ginormous!”

The UTTR is an Air Force owned training range, and with its capabilities, NASA used the UTTR’s range sensors to locate the capsule carrying the sample and traced its precise landing location. From there, NASA positioned a recovery team who gently transferred the sample to a custom-built sanitized housing unit. Finally, from that housing unit, it was transferred by an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III to the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, to be examined.

To showcase the momentous event, NASA’s team partnered with the Air Force to premiere the services’ first-ever 4K live broadcast event.

“Since [the 2nd AVS] isn’t a commercial shop and it’s an agency-to-agency partnership, we believed we could work together and learn from each other,” said Michael Starobin, the OSIRIS-REx live video producer.

The 2nd AVS is armed with millions of dollars’ worth of production equipment. This included their industry standard mobile, broadcasting truck, which they utilized for this mission.

“There’s a lot of set up involved with the broadcasting truck. It can be overwhelming at first, but we just take it one day and piece at a time,” said Staff Sgt. Jourdan Barrons, 2nd AVS section chief, plans and programs.

For this event, the team took two weeks to set up. While putting together the broadcasting space, the 2nd AVS considered the area’s natural lighting, assembled stage components, and put together film equipment to execute smooth camera movements. While pieces came together, the 2nd AVS lead director worked with Mr. Starobin on a multi-camera execution plan.

Fifty-two broadcasting members were miles apart from each other throughout the Dugway Proving Ground, which made coordination and communication paramount. The 2nd AVS had cyber transport Airmen at hand to ensure everyone could communicate among the OSIRIS-REx broadcast team.

In the beginning of the planning process, Starobin’s expectations were for the 2nd AVS to be capable of handling cameras and signal transport. Quickly, he found more possibilities existed with the Air Force team.

“As we felt more comfortable with their engineering capabilities, assurances and demonstrations of what the team could do, we felt confident that we could dream bigger and take some risks," Starobin said. “Having those risks satisfied was its own reinforcement because they were not intimidated by what we were asking for. We continued to grow with the expectations of ourselves, not just the 2nd AVS. We needed to be worthy of what we were asking for.”

From a cyber aspect, Airmen learned how to integrate Air Force and NASA equipment while finding the most concise way to maintain strong connectivity throughout the event. This included planning out how much fiber cable they needed to run and estimating variables impacting those connections. Performing site surveys was integral to getting around those variables, allowing signals to travel far distances in a mountainous region.

“This was a really unique experience,” said Airman 1st Class Manuel Mejia-Diaz, 2nd AVS cyber transport technician. “The NASA personnel were very knowledgeable about what they were doing and what they needed. I learned about the processes of being a cyber technician in a big production environment.”

Starobin said one of the great positives is how much the coordination felt like a collaboration.

“We were so impressed with their leadership,” Starobin stated. “They are knowledgeable technically and they were such flexible professionals. We threw many curveballs at them, and they responded with ‘give us more.’ That was such a pleasure [for our team].”

Together, with the 2nd AVS, NASA’s production team saved more than $355,000.

“Going with a commercial vendor would have been dramatically more expensive,” Starobin said. “Roughly, it would’ve cost $28,000 to $35,000 a day for a truck. That’s not counting the crew. That becomes very expensive, very fast.”

As the event concluded with the successful retrieval of the samples, the team could walk away with another fruitful mission in their pockets.

The Airmen of the 2nd Audiovisual Squadron are a unique, highly capable asset for the Air Force and the nation,” said Maj. Mark Graff, 2nd AVS commander. “Our ability to provide live broadcast and video production support for the Department of Defense and the Air Force upholds the public trust in our military and promotes understanding of how we defend the nation. Our partnership with NASA on their historic OSIRIS-REx mission shows the innovative spirit of the Air Force and that we can do anything.”

To work with the 2nd AVS on future projects, customers can email 2avs.css.pa@us.af.mil.