Advanced sensor system to boost astronaut safety, provide rare view of International Space Station

Oct. 10, 2017
LONGUEUIL, Quebec. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) officials needed a state-of-the-art vision system to help boost astronaut safety on the International Space Station (ISS). They found their solution at Neptec Design Group, an Ottawa-based company specializing in the development of intelligent spaceflight sensors and equipment.  

LONGUEUIL, Quebec.Canadian Space Agency (CSA) officials needed a state-of-the-art vision system to help boost astronaut safety on the International Space Station (ISS). They found their solution at Neptec Design Group, an Ottawa-based company specializing in the development of intelligent spaceflight sensors and equipment.

Neptec Design Group won an $11.9-million Canadian Space Agency contract, which is expected to benefit Canadians working in the space sector with new jobs and business opportunities.

This computer-generated image shows Dextre (right) on the end of Canadarm2, holding an advanced vision system. The Canadian Space Agency's robotic helper will use it to inspect and protect the International Space Station's external surfaces. Dextre's new vision system will be launched to the International Space Station in 2021. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NEPTEC)

As part of the contract, Neptec Design Group will develop an innovative vision system using a combination of three sensors to monitor the outside of the International Space Station (ISS), keeping the space laboratory inside safe and operational.

The technology will give the Space Station's Canadian robotic handyman, Dextre, the ability to quickly detect signs of damage on the exterior of the Space Station, which will keep astronauts safe on board.

This technology, set to launch in 2021, will help spacecraft dock when visiting the ISS. It will also relay images of the ISS back to Earth, giving Canadians a view of the Space Station never seen before.

The new vision system could eventually be used as part of future deep-space exploration missions. This initiative is part of the Government of Canada's Innovation and Skills Plan, a multi-year effort to create jobs for the middle class.

"Our government believes that an investment in space is an investment in science and innovation. These investments create new opportunities for the space sector and well-paying, middle-class jobs for Canadians. That's why we are investing in the companies and technologies that will drive Canada's next steps in space exploration. The technologies that are designed for space today can one day be applied to the everyday lives of Canadians. That's how innovation leads to a better Canada," says the Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Regular inspections are crucial for keeping the Space Station healthy and operational. Today, this is done by cameras on Canadarm2 and Dextre, crew photos taken from inside the Station, or by sending astronauts out on spacewalks to take close-up photos, which can pose a risk.

The new vision system will use a combination of three sensors—a 3D laser, a high-definition camera and an infrared camera—to support the inspection and maintenance of the Space Station.

Dextre's new vision system will be operated by mission controllers on the ground at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, or at the CSA's headquarters in St-Hubert, Quebec.

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    Courtney E. Howard | Chief Editor, Intelligent Aerospace

    Courtney enjoys writing about all things high-tech in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Intelligent Aerospace and Military & Aerospace Electronics. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics and space geek. Connect with Courtney at [email protected], @coho on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on Google+.

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