By Aljaž Kropivšek, a Senior Customer Support Engineer at Dewesoft
My colleague, Geneviève Siret, and I were tasked to set up a measurement system with two cameras for one of the Ariane 5 launches. CNES needed to replace their old cameras, which were starting to become quite dated and Dewesoft was tasked to replace the old rocket launch video monitoring system on the Ariane rocket launch pad in Kourou.
Recording of 8 video streams and real-time visualization of the data in the PCE room, 100 meters of the BEAP control room, was required. The cameras should be controllable from the BEAP controller and power and data redundancy was needed for security reasons. The setup should be synchronized by the universal clock signal, IRIG, using the international clock for synchronization with the other measurement units and the rocket launcher. PoE switch was needed to power the cameras to reduce the number of cables.
On a Tuesday morning, three days before the launch we drove towards the Ariane Launch Center, which is located about ten miles west of the city of Kourou in French Guiana, South America. The road took us through a lightly forested area and we first passed the Space Museum with an amazing, full-size model of Ariane 5 standing in front of it. After driving for another ten minutes on the road surrounded by light vegetation, catching glimpses of different personnel, assembly, and launch facilities, we finally arrived at the Ariane Launch Center.
The atmosphere there was less busy than we expected it to be with the launch being only three days away but it was probably just the calm before the storm.
There we met with a few engineers working on the Ariane project, who then took us to the launch site. To get there, we had to drive about a kilometre back to where we came from and pass through the security check, guarded with a ramp and a couple of guards, into the restricted area of the Ariane 5 launch site. In a few minutes, we emerged from the trees, presented with a clear view of the launch pad, which stood a few hundred meters away. The launch pad was amazing, even from that far away, with the huge water tower and the tower that holds and protects the rocket at launch standing dozens of meters high.
Then, to my big surprise, we drove on, directly towards the launch pad and the engineer, who was driving the car, told us we need to get to the other side of the launch pad and that we might want to take out our phones if we want to take pictures of the launch pad and the tower up close. We drove on, directly over the launch pad just a few meters away from the tower and next to where Ariane 5 would be standing in a few days.
Passing the tower, we turned left onto the railway coming from the final assembly facility and after about two hundred meters left the railway and drove the last few dozen meters to the hatch where the measurement system with the cameras was to be mounted. We all went inside and mounted the two DS-CAM-600 cameras, one on a metal table and the other on a tripod, facing the launch pad and set up Dewesoft to start recording data when the launch signal came from the mission control centre.
The measurement system consisted of a DS-IRIG-ACDC module that acquired the IRIG B AC signal and converted it to the IRIG B DC signal for the two SIRIUS Data Acquisition modules which distributed the synchronization signal to the cameras. This provided the synchronization between the BEAP controller, Dewesoft software and the cameras. The DAQ units were each configured with 3 analogue inputs, 9 digital inputs, and 3 digital outputs.
All in all, 8 cameras were installed around the rocket for visualization and control of the mechanical defaults and accidental loss of the mechanical parts during the launch. Two servers were used for the correct storing of the data. Each server contained 2 hard disk drives for the operating system and two solid-state drives for data storage, all of them configured in a RAID configuration to provide redundancy in case of hardware faults. Two PoE switches were used to assure perfect alignment of cameras and the data. All cameras were recording with frame rates from 300 to 400 fps in Full HD resolution.
When we were done, we got back into the car and drove back to the Launch Center, hardly able to believe that we got the chance to be there and especially happy to have seen everything from so close.