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How to make an 8K camera work in space

If you're making a film and want to use the best camera available, the RED DSMC2 range would be likely contenders. Their 8K Helium sensor achieved the top score in over a dozen independent tests and took the cinema world by storm. Shooting in 8K at up to 75fps with a data rate of up to 300MB/s, the picture quality is like no other (except its big brother, the suitably-named Monstro) and with their proprietary Redcode Raw format, you have supreme flexibility to do whatever you like with the footage in the editing booth.

Naturally, all that power isn't as simple as point and shoot. The sheer power required to capture all that detail means the camera outputs a huge amount of heat, running for a max of 20 minutes before it needs to shut off and rest. Two inbuilt cooling fans work intelligently to keep the camera at a functional temperature, with an automatic shutoff in place to prevent lasting damage in conditions where the fans just can't cope.

When we were presented with the challenge to shoot the first ever commercial 8K video in space (just a few months behind those swots at NASA), you'd think we would be laughing. After all, space is freezing cold, right? Well, unfortunately it doesn't work quite like that.

At sea level, under normal atmospheric conditions, a warm object naturally loses heat due to convection. Heat continually passes from the object into cooler air particles around it. A fan cooling system takes advantage of this by moving lots of cool air past the object quickly. But in Near Space, where our flights travel, the atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of pressure at sea level.

Simply put, there's no air to wick away heat, so while the environment is cold, an object which generates heat keeps it. While some thermal energy is lost as radiation, this is many times less efficient than cooling by convection. Without air to pump, the fans are actually working against us, generating heat while spinning at top speed to no effect.

In order to resolve this, we had two options: enclose the camera in a sealed, pressurised vessel so the fans can work, or tear it apart and build an entirely new cooling system to save weight. Naturally, we took the latter approach. We removed the fans and extended the heatsinks directly into a custom water cooling system that would draw heat out via conduction.

Then, following a series of heated (sorry) discussions about heat transmission rates at different altitudes, we created a timing sequence, using the camera's own heat generation to keep the camera within the operating temperature.

The result? A full 480GB MiniMag of incredible, world-first 8K footage of the Earth from space. Check out dome of our best shots from the launch in our latest video below, or for more information get in touch with our team today.


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