High Dynamic Range, or HDR. Anyone who follows photography knows the technique. You take multiple exposures of the same scene and then combine them together to perfectly expose all areas of an image. Most cameras take one exposure at a time. But NASA isn’t in the business of creating a regular camera.

The High Dynamic Range Stereo X (HiDyRS-X) project is a high-speed, high dynamic range camera. It records several, slow motion video exposures at once. A perfect solution for capturing NASA’s recent Space Launch System test.

The problem with recording a rocket test is obvious. The rocket plume is incredibly bright. NASA could turn the exposure way down, but that would eliminate detail of the surrounding areas. HiDyRS-X allows them to get the exposure just right for the entire scene. And the results are staggering.

We go from a regular camera.

before HDR rocket test

To HiDyRS-X.

with HDR rocket test

The video is stunning.

NASA’s Howard Conyers leads the team developing the HDR camera and talked about this camera changes the way scientists see rocket tests.

“I was amazed to see the ground support mirror bracket tumbling and the vortices shedding in the plume,” Conyers said. “I was able to clearly see the exhaust plume, nozzle and the nozzle fabric go through its gimbaling patterns, which is an expected condition, but usually unobservable in slow motion or normal playback rates.”

The HiDyRS-X test didn’t go without a hitch, though. NASA’s SLS booster is one of the most powerful in the world. Conyers and his team learned this the hard way. The camera was only able to record a few seconds of the two-minute test before the power cable popped out. The sheer force of the booster shook the ground enough to disconnect the camera.

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That wasn’t the only issue. HiDyRS-X’s auto timer didn’t go off in sync with the booster ignition. Luckily, the team quickly hit the manual override.

In future tests, the team plans to start the camera 10 seconds before ignition. If the auto timer fails, it still gives them time to hit the manual override to catch the rocket ignition. They also plan to better secure the camera to prevent damage or disconnection.

But Conyers is taking it in stride. “Failure during testing of the camera is the opportunity to get smarter,” he said. “Without failure, technology and innovation is not possible.”

NASA has high hopes for the HiDyRS-X camera. While we see it in action for the recent SLS test, NASA has also teased its potential for planetary rovers. A second prototype is being built with even better HDR capabilities.

Now, let’s get one of these ready the next time SpaceX lands a rocket!

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