Flight to Stratosphere • 360° Aerial Panorama
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Among thousands of comments on our website, there was one that caught our attention: "You have photographed the entire Earth. Now it is time to shoot in Space".
We thought "Why not?" and in the summer of 2012 we sent a probe with photographic equipment to the stratosphere, taking spherical panoramas from the near space. We have a small team and we're always busy running behind.
Recent record-breaking jump from the stratosphere by Felix Baumgartner reminded us about this flight, and we decided to cancel the planned publication of the panoramas from Europe. As a result, instead of a virtual tour of the Vatican, we're offering to your attention the report about the AirPano shooting the near space.
The stratosphere is situated between about 10 km (6 mi) and 50 km (30 mi) altitude above the Earth's atmosphere. The stratosphere has 2 layers: the lower one (11-25 km) and the upper one (25-50 km). It's worthy to mention that air temperature in the lower layer can reach -60 ° C, while the upper layer is being gradually warmed up to +0,8 ° C and it reaches zero at the altitude of about 45 kilometers.
At altitudes from 15-20 to 55-60 kilometers lies the ozone layer that protects the Earth from the sun's deadly radiation.
The top layer of the stratosphere is often called "near space".
Sending a camera into the stratosphere and getting it back is a technically challenging task, so we asked project Netwind.ru, headed by Denis Efremov, to help us to do it. They have extensive experience in this field and all the necessary permits from regulatory authorities.
Sending cameras into the near space is done by using balloons filled with helium. These balloons rise 35-37 kilometers above the ground, gradually increasing in size until they are as big as three-story house. At this altitude balloons suppose to burst and send cameras safely to the ground by parachute. To shoot the moment of the balloon's explosion, we set one of the cameras up vertically in video mode.
Balloons had to be launched before dawn in order to shoot the Earth in a beautiful morning light. The night was amazing: all the way to the launch site in the North-East Moscow region our road was lit by headlights, stars, and the moon. Soon the work was in full swing. Our colleagues from Netwind were right on time: they quickly unpacked their things and installed the lighting. We found out that all the necessary equipment could hardly fit into two cars!
A calm weather was promising a good probe launch. But a lot of things had to be checked before the launch. Cameras have to operate in extremely cold conditions: batteries can be damaged, and cover lenses can get misted over or get covered with ice crystals. Cameras have several search GPS-beacons attached to them so they could be found after landing on the ground. However, there is a possibility of failure. That's why assembly process requires a lot of attention.
By morning, all preparations were completed, and the balloon sailed slowly into the sky above the rolling fog. One of the pilots even filmed the launch of the balloon with a radio-controlled model airplane! All we had to do was wait and see what our balloon cameras would show on the screen.
Some time later we saw beautiful clouds floating past the balloon while it was lit by sun rays. Everything went according to the plan. Upon reaching the altitude of 35-37 kilometers the balloon bursted and cameras started to descend. GPS-beacons sent their coordinates several kilometers above the ground and went silent. The next transmission time was supposed to be from their landing position. But it never happened. This is why we had to cover five miles in diameter in order to find the camera. The search ended up going for 2 days straight: our whole team made several trips to the landing area and searched for camera unit in the dark forest, making our way through the faint trails without any results. It's hard enough to find a small camera in the forest with more or less precise coordinates, but without them it's almost impossible. Furthermore, simultaneous failure of two GPS-beacons looked suspicious, and we thought the camera was not in the forest, but in a lake located near to the search area. Was it a technical failure or a water landing: we couldn't find out the exact cause. A few thousand dollars worth of equipment was lost, and we had to do it all over again.
So a week later we had to repeat the whole process again. The weather was great and the moon and stars gave us new hopes for success. The sky was cloudy but, nonetheless, the luck was on our side. The clouds spared us and photo shoot was successful: on panorama you can see forests, fields, and Pleshcheyevo lake by Pereslavl-Zalesskiy. This time there were three GPS-beacons with cameras and they didn't fail us.
Cameras landed on the field in the outskirts of one local village attracting attention of cows. But our equipment was not edible, so we found it intact. We have a video of our trip to the cameras' landing site: you can see all the rough roads and small bridges we had to cross to get there. But it was worth it! We finally had a spheric panorama of the Earth from the altitude of 37 kilometers.
24 October 2012
"One thing I don't understand is: Why can we see the stars, even so close to the sun?
The images that are published by NASA don't show any stars. Also images shot by the astronauts on the moon don't have visible stars on them. The astronauts themselves told that they only could see the stars on the dark side of the moon. The explanation given is: The light from the sun is so bright that with a normal camera setting the stars are simply too faint to show up. Even if you would use a much longer exposure, the sun flare reflections between different lens sections would dominate the image.
My question is: Did you add the stars later on top of the original photographs? Please tell, because this would be important for the scientific community to know!"
Ercan Gigi, Netherlands
AirPano: Dear Ercan, we've already answered to the similar question in Russian version of our guest book. Look at the message: http://www.airpano.ru/360Degree-VirtualTour.php?3D=Stratosphere&set_language=1 2012-12-13 12:06:59
Briefly, by using manual settings of the camera, it is possible to take a photo where you can see stars and Sun at the same time. We absolutely precisely know how to do it via HDR technology, by shooting with fisheye optics and taking a few pictures with different exposure.
But there is another picture when default camera settings is used. In this case, as you correctly noticed, the brightness of the sun will force camera to set the exposure to get results where the sky will be dark and the stars will not be visible, as it is on NASA's photos.
When we was creating the panorama of Stratosphere, we had a task to make artistic picture, which most of visitors expect to see. We didn't want to get documentary photography for learning in the scientific community. Therefore we used different technology for showing the sun and the stars.
"It can't begin to imagine how you guys must have cringed when loosing the first set. In the end you made it and it's fucking amazing! Such dedication, much inspiration."
Paul Bergot, France
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Mohammed AlEidi, Saudi Arabia
"Woow . I like this. Very very nice"
Javad Hajzade, Iran
"É tão bom poder voar dentro de casa. Quantas pessoas podem ser felizes pelo vosso trabalho, e ver o mundo como nunca o poderiam ver de outra forma. Também voçês devem estar agradecidos pelo trabalham que fazem, pois vos deve dar um gozo enorme. De qualquer forma, muito obrigado pelo vosso trabalho."
João Castanheira, Portugal
"Its' a good feeling to know that quality people have left on this planet :)"
Deliman Mihai, Romania
medoo dahlawi, Saudi Arabia
"¡¡¡ Impresionante y gran trabajo...poder ver todo el mundo con un solo click y desde casa...seguid así...hacer mas fotos de ESPAÑA, que muchos lugares que merece la pena verlos....!!! DIOS OS BENDIGA."
santos dual hernandez, Spain
"Espectacular... sin palabras"
josefina mateos, Spain
"Excelente trabajo, muy bien logrado, las imágenes son espectaculares, es maravilloso poder contemplar lo bello que es nuestro planeta, gracias totales señores de Airpano."
Leonardo Chaves, Colombia
"When I saw these pictures, my heart stopped! To think our world is like this.... just beautiful. I thank god for this world!"
Leilani Miller, USA
"I have always wondered what another race/ alien would think of of our world, and what would they see...."
Randall Lakey, USA
"meus cumprimentos por esta maravilha da tecnologia
que vocês, nos proporciona.
obrigado por tudo isso"
gerson dimarzio, Brazil
"I want to thank to things firts the god who created this beautiful world and second the airpano who gave us the opportinuty to look and admire the god created beautiful world"
Aniketh Hotagi, India
"Such a great task you won finally."
Mir Mehrullah Talpur, Pakistan
"Life isn't fair, but it's still good.."
Peyman Ahmadi, Iran
mojtaba nabatzae, Iran
elder elderdoria, Brazil
"Vangelis music makes this experience unbelievable. I applaud the team that have put this all together."
Andrzej H, Poland
Atefe' Abbasi, Iran
"What a wonderful earth we have I thank the great creater God who created this wonderful earth."
shaku joseph arrangasseri srshakuntala, India
Kiljae Lee, Korea
"For any one who is house bound, Wonderful!!"
Irene Abdi, United Kingdom
"amazing....I'm really thankful o whole team..."
venkat pampana, India
"Felicitaciones es un trabajo espectacular gracias por tan lindas imagenes"
horacio donalisio, Argentina
"My wife and I looked at some of your work and Zarina said that at our late age this is wonderful tool to visit places that we wished to but did not for one reason or other.
We liked your work and thank you for sharing with us. Please keep on going.
Arif Saeed, Canada
Varvara, AirPano: Dear Arif, we are glad that you and your wife like it. You are always welcome!
"Amazing on all that you have done!
Can you tell the title to all the songs in the videos?? the are all wonderfully selected!
Oberdan Aguiar, Brazil
Varvara, AirPano: Oberdan, click the link below so you can read how to find titles of songs http://www.airpano.com/FAQ.php
"UNGLAUBLICH, was ihr da macht, Jungs!!
Grüsse aus der Schweiz"
Andreas Merz, Switzerland
"As a teacher... this is truly amazing stuff.... keep at it you guys. Wow!"
John Greig, Australia
"wonderfull thanks for your work, it´s spectacular."
ANDRES GONZALEZ, Mexico
"İncredible work...Congratulations and thanks a lot for sharing..."
Burak Ercümen, Turkey
"Ihr seid die Grössten,es gibt nichts schöneres als unsere Erde aus dieser Perspektive zu sehen. Danke,alles Gute und weiter so!!!!!!"
Ronald Wolf, Germany
Eugenio Mafaraci, Germany
"As I read the well deserved accolades and praise from around the world, it struck me, the AirPano team has created a common interest that transcends all our differences. All I can add is Thank You!"
Gordon Reilly, USA
"The views really take you there. Awestruck!"
Andy Crownm, USA
"All panoramas and 3D Virual Tours"
Lise Charland, Canada
Karel CÍS, Czech Republic
"This is Truly an Outstanding feat! Alot of hard work went in this project and it is Truly Appreciated. My compliments to the Team who accomplished this. Please keep up the Great Work!!!"
Dan Stalnaker, USA
"It's amazing work..the most beautiful images that i have ever seen..I can't stop looking at it
Maggie Ali, Egypt
Gabriel Leicht, Israel
"These panorama views are the most beautyful views that I have ever seen. Thanks and keep doing your job!!!"
Giovanni Saviano, Italy
Tomi B, Macedonia
""Very very very beautiful - I would ( PLEASE ) love to have a screen saver of this that would slowly rotate!Greatings from Switzerland"
Dimitri Kokas ,Deskati, Switzerland
"this is a great thank you incredible impressions excellent work amazing thank you"
marta gajdusek, USA
"Very inspiring - beautiful - I would love to have a
screen saver of this that would slowly rotate !!"
Michael Pollitz, USA
"Wow... this is something! I had to swallow the tears as I watched this. This was exactly what I imagined it to be. Makes you think about more than just a cool experiment doesnt it..."
Kyle Hendricks, South Africa
"Awesome pictures. Keep it up!"
Peter Ling, Malaysia
"GRACIAS. ES MARAVILLOSO EL REGALO DEL CREADOR DEL UNIVERSO. USTEDES SE MERECEN NUESTRO AMOR."
Carlos Reyes, Costa Rica
"amazing! can't wait to show these panos to my students! i am not a science teacher. in fact, i teach language arts, but my students are from a small town of 5,000 people and may never venture very far. they need to see what is out there beyond their little world!"
shelllie mcallister, USA
panayiotis ss, Cyprus