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.

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)…
Watch SpaceX nail its 250th Falcon 9 drone ship landing
A Falcon 9 booster coming in to land.

SpaceX has successfully landed its Falcon 9 booster on a drone ship for the 250th time.

The first stage of the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket made a flawless landing on the Just Read the Instructions drone ship about eight minutes after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday. A video (below) captured the moment that the booster -- this one making its ninth touchdown -- arrived on the floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

Read more
Watch this stunning slow-motion footage of mighty Starship launch
SpaceX's Starship launching on its fourth test flight.

SpaceX achieved its most successful Starship flight yet on Thursday in a test that launched from its Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas.

The world’s most powerful rocket created a colossal 17 million pounds of thrust as it roared away from the launchpad. SpaceX later shared some incredible slow-motion footage showing the vehicle -- comprising the first-stage Super Heavy booster and upper-stage Starship spacecraft -- climbing toward orbit.

Read more
SpaceX Starship rocket survives reentry mostly intact in fourth test flight
starship fourth test flight screenshot 2024 06 145159

The mighty Starship rocket that SpaceX intends to use to transport astronauts to the moon and beyond has made another largely successful test flight, blasting off and returning to Earth somewhat intact. The uncrewed test today was the fourth launch of the Starship to date, following a third test in March in which the Starship launched, but was lost during reentry.

The rocket launched from SpaceX's Starbase facility in Texas at around 9 a.m. ET this morning, Thursday January 6. The Starship lifted off from Texas and traveled through the atmosphere. It then flew over the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. It traveled for around 40 minutes. The ship then came back through the atmosphere for a reentry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean.

Read more