NASA and ULA plan first-ever live 360 webcast of Atlas 5 launch

CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA and United Launch Alliance will offer the first-of-its-kind live webcast in 360 Virtual Reality format of Tuesday morning’s Atlas 5 rocket liftoff from Cape Canaveral with a space station cargo ship.

As if you were standing at the launch pad, webcast watchers will be in control to pan and tilt their personalized live view of the Atlas 5 rocket launching the Orbital ATK Cygnus freighter at 11:11 a.m. EDT (1511 GMT).

The webcast will be carried on NASA’s YouTube channel starting at approximately 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT).

The morning’s launch window extends 30 minutes, dictated by Cygnus’ orbital requirements for rendezvous with the space station, and weather forecasters predict favorable conditions.

NASA spearheaded the concept to use 360 technology to show a launch in real-time, then worked with ULA to implement the project at the Complex 41 pad.

“The camera is a single rig consisting of four separate cameras in one unit, with built in image stabilization and horizon correction. They are connected to a special computer at the launch pad that automatically ‘stitches’ all four images together into full sphere, so you can look around in 360 degrees — up and down — as if you were actually there,” said Sarah McNulty, a NASA public affairs officer at the Kennedy Space Center.

“The cool thing is that in order to get the launch control audio embedded into the 360 stream, we had to run the audio from that channel into the camera itself. So for the first time, we’re actually sending that countdown audio out to the launch pad!”

The camera is approximately 100 yards away from the rocket. The computer is protected inside a weather-proof container.

“(ULA CEO) Tory Bruno often talks about his goal of making space, ULA and the industry more transparent. We’re very excited to bring an up-close launch experience to people — even closer than they’d get to be watching a launch in person,” said United Launch Alliance spokesperson Christa Bell.

The system was used during the Delta 4 rocket launch last month for a test, and the equipment at the Atlas 5 has been checked out extensively before doing a public broadcast.

ULA released 360 videos of two Delta 4 launches last year, a Medium+ rocket flying from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and a Heavy booster from Cape Canaveral. The Atlas 5 on Tuesday will be the first launch in 360 to be seen live.

Not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports playback of 360-degree videos on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera browsers. Also, viewers may use the YouTube app to view the launch on a smart phone.

Delta 4 Medium+ (5,2) with NROL-45

Delta 4-Heavy with NROL-37

See earlier OA-7 Cygnus coverage.

Our Atlas archive.