The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has commissioned the design of an advanced vision system for Dextre, the International Space Station's (ISS's) robotic handyman. Dextre will use the new hand-held tool to inspect the external surfaces of the orbiting laboratory and sleuth out signs of damage caused by natural ageing and by small meteorites and orbital debris that regularly hit the Station.
Roughly the size of a microwave oven, the vision system combines a 3D laser, a high-definition camera and an infrared camera to reveal damage that (in some cases) is hidden to the naked eye and in places that are hard to reach or difficult to see in the harsh lighting conditions on board the ISS.
The 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 Saint-Hubert, Quebec. Imagery generated by the system will be available to the public, who will see the ISS as they have never seen it before.
The vision system is currently being designed by Neptec Design Group Ltd. of Ottawa and will be launched to the ISS in 2020.
Dextre's role is to perform maintenance work and repairs like changing batteries and replacing cameras outside the ISS.
Having Dextre on call reduces the amount of risky spacewalks to do routine chores, thus giving astronauts more time for science, the main goal of the ISS. Dextre's special skills and awesome location also offer a unique testing ground for new robotics concepts like servicing satellites in space.
Dextre can ride on the end of Canadarm2 to move from worksite to worksite, or simply hitch a ride on the Mobile Base.