An Unprecedented View of Earth & Space: 360-Degree Video Feb20


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An Unprecedented View of Earth & Space: 360-Degree Video

Well, here’s the big thing my friend Greg Pitner and I have been working on for RPI-SEDS the past few weeks! I am delighted to present an unprecedented approach to experiencing Earth and space. In this 360-degree immersive panoramic video, you will witness an abridged journey of our recent high-altitude balloon launch. If you want some background, read my tragically comical story about what it took to get to this point. Take a look:


Here’s a list of some mentions we’ve received:


The Video

NOTE: For best results, let the video load for a bit before playing, to minimize choppiness.


The “Flattened” Version (watch in full quality!):


Why I’m Excited: “Grassroots Space”

Let’s face it: space isn’t sexy anymore. The zeal for the cosmos that once pervaded the American public consciousness has gone flat, and we’re not going to rediscover that passion through politicians or NASA administrators. It will reemerge through the efforts of entrepreneurs in the private space industry and through the legions of professionals and students inspired by their actions.

Three battlefronts define the growth of this new space movement. At the boundary of technological knowledge, space entrepreneurs fight for business models that can bring sustainable profits. In the political arena, commercial space advocates are creating the necessary relationships with NASA and the U.S. government so that the industry can grow.

The third battlefront is an intellectual mission to inspire the future generations of space scientists, entrepreneurs, and workers. Educational outreach efforts aimed at students primarily define activity on this front. The national student-run organization Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) is one example, dedicated to fostering enthusiasm for space among young people. I founded the RPI chapter of SEDS to bring that excitement to my campus by engaging students with space-related projects.

Our first effort, the high-atmosphere balloon, is an innovative variation on this increasingly common project. The idea that regular students can realize grassroots space projects like this embodies new opportunities to inspire people unlike ever before. That is the central idea behind presenting the high-atmosphere in a 360-degree interactive medium.


How We Did It

A block of extruded polystrene (i.e. foam) served as an effective vessel for an ARPS (for tracking), three GoPro HD Hero cameras, associated components, and handwarmers (to keep the transmitter batteries warm). We attached this payload to a helium-filled balloon and a drag parachute.

We mounted the three cameras on a piece of plexiglass we screwed to the top of the foam block so that they looked outwards, radially equidistant at 120-degrees. Shooting at 720p mode offered a 127-degree field-of-view for each camera, leading to approximately 7-degrees of overlap between any two adjacent cameras (at best).

In retrospect, we needed more overlap between adjacent camera field-of-views. We initially intended for a seamless (i.e. no visible frame edges) 360-degree video, but we did not have sufficient overlap to achieve this realistically. Fortunately, I think the final product demonstrates the original vision effectively enough.

The Payload


After successfully launching, chasing, and retrieving the balloon, video post-processing became the game. This is the workflow that resulted in the video above (omitting nitty-gritty details):

  1. In Final Cut Pro 7 (FCP7), create a custom-size canvas 3840x720px and place all three camera feeds, making sure that all feeds are time-synced.
  2. Tons of processing, including: skewing segments of movie to align horizons, image correction, cutting down movie to two minutes, adding music.
  3. Export video to an .mp4 using H.264 codec, saving at an appropriate quality for display on the Internet.
  4. Use krpano Tools to create a 360-degree panoramic video.

Had we the opportunity to do seamless stitching between cameras, we would have followed the following workflow (omitting details, again):

  1. In FCP7, align all camera feeds on a custom-sized canvas the size of three adjacent feeds, making sure that all feeds are time-synced.
  2. Edit the video length to your desired outcome.
  3. Export ALL frames from the three feeds as high-resolution images.
  4. Use PTGui Pro to automate batch stitching process for ALL frames.
  5. Import panoramic images as a movie in Quicktime Pro, then save as a movie file.
  6. Use FCP7 to edit video to final outcome (e.g. doing color correction, adding music).
  7. Export video to an .mp4 using H.264 codec, saving at an appropriate quality for display on the Internet.
  8. Use krpano Tools to create a 360-degree panoramic video.


The Launch