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BT broadcasts live from space at New Scientist Live event

BT’s broadcast technology connects visitors to ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli on board the ISS

BT delivered a live broadcast link between London and the International Space Station (ISS), allowing visitors at the New Scientist Live event to interact with Italian European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli. Our media and broadcast division worked with the European Space Agency to provide the live broadcast technology, which allowed visitors to the event at London’s ExCeL showcase watch the astronaut live as he orbitted 250 miles above the earth, as part of a five month mission on board the ISS.

Libby Jackson, from the UK Space Agency, who was mission director from ESA’s Control Centre for Paolo and other astronauts, hosted the broadcast, alongside BT Sport pundit Craig Doyle. Our bespoke Outside Broadcast (OB) truck, coupled with the iconic BT Tower, enabled the broadcast from space to happen. The specialist, high-capacity vehicle used on this event was key to the monitoring and pre-production of the link. It is capable of receiving multiple high definition (HD) and ultra-high definition (UHD) feeds simultaneously, ensuring a high quality viewing and listening experience for New Scientist Live visitors watching from London.

The video and audio of Paolo, picked up by the camera at the ISS, started its journey to the UK via three satellites orbiting 36,000km from Earth, known as the Tracking and Data Relay System (TDRS). These satellites transmitted the footage to the Johnson Space Centre TV facility where they then entered the Encompass Atlanta broadcast hub for connectivity to London over a fibre-optic global network. When it reached London, the TV signal was converted from US TV standards to UK standards and was then presented to BT’s Emmy award winning Facility Line switch in BT Tower. The signal was encoded and compressed to 90Mbps across the local fibre circuit to the ExCeL centre, decoded back to a HD signal at 1.485Gbps by the BT OB truck and presented to the on-site production vehicle for delivery to the New Scientist Live main theatre.

Mark Wilson-Dunn, Vice President of BT Media & Broadcast, said: “This was quite an unusual but exciting ask for us, and a bit of a technical challenge given the route the feed takes via multiple satellites from space back to the UK. However, thanks to a stellar effort from our team, coupled with the very best broadcasting equipment and our world-class fibre network, we were able to offer crowds the chance to interact with Paolo on his mission.”

BT showcased a whole range of technology innovations at the New Scientist Live event, including smart cities capabilities, its latest work in 5G, and the immersive virtual reality headsets used for the Champion’s League.