Dextre-Operated Camera: Taking a closer look at the International Space Station
The Dextre-Operated Camera (DOC) is an upcoming portable enhanced-vision tool that can be attached to Dextre, the International Space Station's handyman. DOC 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 International Space Station (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 robotic repairman with a new tool: DOC. DOC will provide astronauts and ground controllers with a much better view of the ISS.
As the most sophisticated vision system in space, DOC will:
- help inspect the Space Station for damage, keeping it safe and operational for years to come
- create a 3D map of the ISS that can be used to detect even tiny changes that would be invisible to the naked eye
- monitor and provide information about visiting vehicles as they approach and depart from the Station
- provide unparalleled high-definition images of the ISS, Canadarm2, and 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 DOC will be 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
DOC can be attached to Dextre on an as-needed basis. This innovative technology will house three sensors:
- a 3D mapping laser
- a high-definition video camera, with powerful LED lights
- an infrared, night-vision camera
If ground control or the astronauts on board believe that the ISS has been hit by space debris, they will be able to use DOC 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, DOC is likely to reduce the number of risky, unplanned spacewalks 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 the red planet in the coming decades.
DOC will make its debut on the ISS in .
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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