I was watching Today's launch test by SpaceX and had a question pertaining to the method used for imagery of objects mid-air! Other than on-board cameras, what techniques do NASA and SpaceX follows for such beautiful captures? It's literally not possible to be in proximity to the rocket and space capsule to image! Kindly List out the methods.

  • $\begingroup$ Related in general, but not for this launch: space.stackexchange.com/q/27095/22267 Also the picture in this article - they have some giant, well mounted cameras around launch sites. $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ It would be helpful if you could share any info where the object photographed was (how high, how far away from a possible ground observation point) when it was photographed... up to a km or so away, that image would be within the means of someone competent with an off the shelf quality telescope or really long (eg 800mm) telephoto lens.... though it obviously is not given the imprints. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


I have no first-hand knowledge of what was used for the SpaceX abort test, but the image in the question looks very similar to the tracking imagery from the AIRS-WAVE system on NASA's WB-57 planes. @ErinAnne found a tweet by FlightRadar24 that shows a WB-57 flying for the launch and links to a detailed track.

enter image description here

AIRS is the Airborne Imaging and Recording System which mounts as a replacement nose on one of NASA's WB-57's. WAVE is the WB Ascension Video Experiment, a special set of optics that was created to film the space shuttle's ascent phase.

enter image description here

There are several other optical benches that can be installed in AIRS, depending on exactly the requirements. One of the planes currently has a system called DyNAMITE (gotta love those acronyms: Day Night Airborne Motion Imagery for Terrestrial Environments) which combines HD color video with mid-wave infrared.

In addition to its primary video recordings, the AIRS system provides a real-time tracking display which looks a lot like sample above.

The WB-57s are considered a general facility, so there's a lot of information available about their capabilities. Perhaps a good place to start is the Experimenter's Handbook.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ What's even better than an acronym is a backronym! $\endgroup$
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 0:11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It was absolutely from a WB-57. twitter.com/flightradar24/status/1218922249778089986 $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ In fact the live commentary during the test stated explicitly that it was from a fixed-wing aircraft circling the LZ region $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:54

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