Neptec to Develop a New Advanced Space Vision System for the International Space Station

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 2020. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency, Neptec.)

In his first visit to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), the Honourable Navdeep Bains announced that the Government of Canada would be funding through the Canadian Space Agency a new advanced space vision system for the International Space Station (ISS) to be designed and developed by the Neptec Design Group Ltd. of Ottawa.

The new vision system will be attached to one of Canada's current contributions to the ISS, the Dextre two-armed robotic system used around the ISS to perform maintenance and provide support for experiments. Dextre is moved from point-to-point via the ISS's mobile base. Using Dextre to perform routine maintenance and other functions means astronauts don't have to go outside the ISS to work in the harsh environment of space.

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said of the announcement, "designing and developing technology for the International Space Station has allowed Canadian space companies to become world leaders in space robotics and optics. The Government of Canada is pleased to contribute this new technology that combines these strengths, while giving the world a new vantage point on the International Space Station."

The new vision system will use a combination of three sensors according to the CSA, "a 3D laser, a high‑definition camera and an infrared camera to support the inspection and maintenance of the ageing infrastructure of the International Space Station (ISS). The vision system can also assist in docking of spacecraft visiting the Station."

Neptec CEO Paul Nephin said "Neptec is pleased to have this opportunity to adapt our world-class 3D LIDAR and infrared camera technologies to enhance the safe operation of the International Space Station and support future space exploration. Spin-offs from the technology will give us an edge in world markets for Earth applications such as increased mining productivity, safer operation of subsea oil and gas infrastructure, and guiding self-driving vehicles."

Neptec has a long history in developing vision systems including a laser camera system on Canadarm2 that was used to inspect the tiles of the Space Shuttles. They've also developed the rendezvous and docking sensors for the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft which it uses to assist the cargo ship in docking with the ISS.

The contract is worth $1.7 million and will be launched to the ISS in 2020.