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Dextre Deployable Vision System: Taking a closer look at the International Space Station

Optics & robotics

The Dextre Deployable Vision System (DDVS) is an upcoming portable enhanced-vision tool that can be attached to Dextre, the International Space Station's (ISS) versatile robot. DDVS is designed to inspect the Space Station for signs of damage and monitor the approach and departure of vehicles that visit the orbiting laboratory.


Micrometeoroids, or small space debris, can pose a danger to the ISS. Although they can be as small as grains of sand, these micrometeoroids can cause damage because they travel at approximately 36,000 km per hour.

Since its launch into space, the ISS has been hit by this type of flying debris hundreds of times. On some occasions, these micrometeoroid strikes are serious, and require astronauts to spacewalk outside the Station to inspect the exterior.

Because Dextre is able to visit even hard-to-reach areas of the Space Station, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has decided to equip its space robot with DDVS. This new tool will provide astronauts and ground controllers with a much better view of the ISS.

A sophisticated new vision system for Dextre

This computer-generated image shows Dextre (right) on the end of Canadarm2, holding DDVS, the microwave-sized advanced vision system. (Credits: CSA, MDA)


As the most sophisticated vision system in space, DDVS will:

 Impacts on Earth

Robots were once the realm of science fiction. But with the invention of self-driving cars and medical robots used to perform life-saving surgeries, advanced vision systems have become important to allow these robots to "see."

Lidar technology similar to that used by DDVS was applied by OSIRIS-REx to map the surface of asteroid Bennu, and is already routinely used to rendezvous and dock unpiloted vehicles to the ISS. Here on Earth, lidar helps monitor forests across Canada.

How it works

DDVS can be attached to Dextre on an as-needed basis. This innovative technology will house three sensors: 

If ground control or the astronauts on board believe that the ISS has been hit by space debris, they will be able to use DDVS to quickly gather images of the Space Station structure, allowing them to measure the extent of the damage.

Because of its flexibility and wide applicability, DDVS is likely to reduce the number of risky, unplanned spacewalks that astronauts need to perform during their missions.

This new vision system for the ISS lays the groundwork for the development of important computerized vision systems for spaceships, rovers, and other vehicles. This technology could be used for a space station around the Moon or assist in the exploration of distant destinations like Mars in the coming decades.


DDVS is set to launch to the ISS in .


MDA (formerly Neptec Design Group), an Ottawa-based company, in Ontario, is developing this state-of-the-art vision system under contract by the CSA.

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