During the launch yesterday of ESA’s ATV-4, a special passenger was on oboard Ariane 5: The Sterex experiment. The system features four cameras that can produce 3D stereo images showing the mission of Ariane – including the dramatic separation of the Ariane rocket boosters, the fairing being jettisoned and separation of the ATV and the upper stage.

Below is the first-ever video showing the entry of an ATV vessel into free-flight orbit – incredible!

(Scroll down for Q&A with DLR’s Claus Lippert on the STEREX project)

The first video below is the reduced, annotated version

© ESA /DLR-BMWi 2013

This video is the extended version running about 8 mins

The video system was developed by Kayser-Threde GmbH for ESA and DLR and integrated on Ariane by Astrium GmbH. Usage for ATV-4 was financed by DLR and ESA and supported by Arianespace and CNES. Credit: © ESA /DLR-BMWi 2013

We emailed Dr Claus Lippert at DLR working on the STEREX project, and he kindly sent us these replies:

Q. Where are the cameras mounted on Ariane?
A: All STEREX cameras are on the Ariane upper stage, the EPS (EPS: Etage à propergols stockables). One is on the outside, looking downwards. Two are looking at the ATV (in 3D mode) mounted beside the ‘raising cylinder’ – an adapter that supports the ATV payload – below the ATV, and one more looks at the fairing separation line (to provide video for engineering assessment).

Q. How is the recorded STEREX video data downloaded/downlinked to the ground during the flight?

A: Data are downloaded:

  1. In real time to Kourou during the first minutes of the Ariane mission, and
  2. During two passes over the DLR ground station in Weilheim/Germany

Q. Is the camera unit fully self-contained for power, etc.?
A: Yes, it is completely autonomous.

Q: Do you see real-time TM from the camera unit during the flight? (Even if the video data itself only comes afterwards?)
A: Yes, as long as we have contact from Kourou or other specially equipped ground stations. In the long run, we want to have real-time pictures (possibly even for the public!). This needs some more preparation, though.

Q: Does the camera continue recording during the de-orbit of the EPS?
A: In principle, this could be done, but we would need to have a vessel-based receiving antenna located in the Pacific to get the data (until blackout only, of course). This time, that wasn’t done.

Dr Lippert is working together with DLR’s Thomas Ruwwe who oversees the STEREX project; of course many more colleagues from across all the agencies are involved.