Skip to main content

It’s not easy filming a rocket launch. Here’s how it’s done

With NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine recently asking folks to watch next week’s historic SpaceX launch from home instead of showing up at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, more people than ever will be hitting NASA’s livestream of the much-anticipated mission.

While we’ve become accustomed to watching dramatic footage of rocket launches over the years, those opening minutes showing the rocket blasting toward space at breakneck speed require some pretty powerful technology to achieve those awesome shots.

The setup includes high-definition video and film cameras that use an array of focal lengths for different kinds of shots. And here’s the most important part — the cameras operate from Kineto Tracking Mounts placed around the launch site that automatically follow the rocket, capturing jitter-free footage as it soars toward space. The special mount (below) was initially developed by the military to track aircraft and missiles.

A Kineto Tracking Mount used at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/Wikimedia

This brilliant video (below) by YouTuber Primal Space offers a clear explanation of the filming process. For a bit of perspective, the video starts off by showing the kind of setup you’d need if you wanted to get the same type of footage using a regular DSLR camera. Here’s a tip — don’t bother. First, you’ll have to build yourself a 10,000mm lens to ensure the rocket fills the frame as it heads toward the heavens. And at that kind of focal length, the picture will be shaking around to such an extent that anyone watching will think an earthquake had kicked off. So, best leave it to the professionals. With their professional equipment.

How does SpaceX get these amazing camera shots?

Next week’s groundbreaking launch sees astronauts — in this case Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — taking their place for the first time inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule ahead of a rendezvous with the International Space Station some 250 miles above Earth. It’ll also be the first astronaut launch from American soil since 2011, when the Space Shuttle program ended.

Here’s how you can watch it — captured by all that high-tech equipment — on Wednesday, May 27.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
World’s most powerful rocket clears safety review for next test launch
SpaceX's Super Heavy and Starship.

SpaceX has taken a major step toward the second test launch of the most powerful rocket ever to fly after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it had finished its safety review, which looks at the extent to which the launch might pose a hazard to public health and nearby property.

The Super Heavy rocket and the Starship spacecraft -- collectively known as the Starship -- flew for the first time in April this year, but the uncrewed vehicle suffered an anomaly minutes after launch, which led to it exploding in midair.

Read more
Watch this unique view of SpaceX’s latest Starship rocket test
SpaceX tests its Starship rocket in a ground-based ignition.

As SpaceX continues to wait for the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the second test flight of its mighty Super Heavy rocket, the company recently conducted a ground-based test fire of the rocket’s upper stage, called Starship.

SpaceX posted footage showing the brief test fire from directly above (bottom video), with one of the Starship’s six Raptor engines powering up for about six seconds.

Read more
Watch SpaceX’s most recent Starlink mission in just 60 seconds
A Falcon 9 rocket heads to space in October 2023.

SpaceX flights using its Falcon 9 booster are so routine now that these days most launches slip by with few people noticing.

Read more