Press Release

NRC 3D Laser Scanning Technology the Focus of Space Shuttle Tests

By SpaceRef Editor
August 17, 2001
Filed under ,

(August 17, 2001, Ottawa) — The National Research Council’s (NRC)
internationally recognized 3D laser scanning technology has been adapted for
space exploration and is scheduled to undergo its first ever on-orbit
testing this weekend aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle.

NASA first expressed interest in the laser-based 3D scanning technology
developed by the NRC’s Institute for Information Technology (IIT) as early
as 1995 when researchers demonstrated that a prototype could automatically
track moving targets and operate under the extreme lighting conditions found
in space. Sustained research, in collaboration with the Canadian Space
Agency (CSA) and Neptec Design Group of Ottawa, led to NASA giving the green
light to perform on-orbit testing of the technology on mission STS 105 of
the Space Shuttle. Tests are scheduled to take place this weekend and on two
future space shuttle missions.

According to Dr. Arthur J. Carty, President of the National Research Council
of Canada, the development and testing of this new technology marks another,
important milestone in Canada’s ongoing contribution to space exploration.
“The first Canadarm and the current space vision system – used in some 20
past missions – are both products of NRC research. With this new 3D
technology having the potential of becoming the new “eye” of Canadarm II, we
clearly continue to make significant progress and to advance space
exploration. Canadians everywhere can be justifiably proud of Canada’s
valuable role.”

For the past two years, IIT researchers have worked closely with Neptec to
integrate their 3D laser system into the company’s flagship product, the
Space Vision System (SVS), a key component in the assembly of the
International Space Station. Having successfully integrated the two
technologies, the R&D team of IIT and Neptec researchers and engineers built
a space-qualified laser camera based on the IIT prototype. The result is the
new Neptec Laser Scanner Camera, the subject of this weekend’s space shuttle

The new 3D laser camera marks a scientific breakthrough for two reasons.
First, the laser-based range scanner offers the advantage of being 100 per
cent operational, whatever the light conditions in orbit. Current
technology, which uses video cameras and photogrammetry-based methods to
compute the position and orientation of objects (such as satellites or
elements of the International Space Station) is limited because of the
adverse effect of strong sources of light, like the sun.

Second, the scanner is able to digitize objects in 3D and track geometrical
features in real time, rather than relying on the standard video images of
current technology. This is the first laser tracking system that can
simultaneously digitize in 3D, detect surface defects, track geometrical
features in real time and be immune to extreme lighting conditions.
The new camera has already undergone thermal and vibration testing at the
CSA’s David Florida Lab in Ottawa. This weekend’s on-orbit testing is
designed to verify that the laser tracking system is operational in the
harsh environment and stringent requirements of space.

For more information, please contact:

Shannon Cassidy
Media Relations, NRC
Tel.: (613) 998-7352
Dominique Guérin-Garnett
Communications, IIT
Tel.: (613) 990-7117
Cell: (613) 261-0681

SpaceRef staff editor.