PEACHTREE CITY, Ga., July 12 -- NASA's space shuttle Discovery will rely on a new laser camera system (LCS) equipped with a Fitel laser to inspect the shuttle's exterior for surface damage sustained during flight.
The wide-angle, 3-D scanner, developed by Neptec, a Canadian maker of 3-D imaging systems, will give NASA the ability to detect tiny imperfections -- smaller than a millimeter -- on the thermal tiles of the shuttle's hull. The optical laser in the camera system enables the scanner to produce exacting 3-D data images of the shuttle's surface, even in the harsh glare and intermittent lighting conditions of space.
Neptec's LCS will be deployed at the tip of a new 50-foot inspection boom being used for the first time aboard Discovery for the Return to Flight mission. Manufactured by another Canadian company, MD Robotics, the boom is stored on the opposite side of the shuttle's cargo bay from the Canadarm, a robotic arm used on the outside of the space shuttle. Once in orbit, the shuttle crew will deploy the Canadarm to reach across the cargo bay and connect with the new extension boom, nearly doubling the Canadarm's reach and allowing the LCS to scan even the most hard-to-reach corners of the spacecraft.
The scans transmitted back to Mission Control are detailed, 3-D models that can be zoomed and tilted to cast even the tiniest fractures and imperfections into stark relief. The LCS uses a synchronized scanning technique, patented by the National Research Council of Canada, to generate 3-D data. It can create a model of any object that is accurate to a few millimeters at distances of up to 10 meters. It is the first 3-D laser scanner to be space qualified. The version of the LCS used on the Return to Flight was developed by Neptec from a scanner that was originally tested aboard Discovery during a 12-day mission in 2001.
Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., a Japanese supplier of 1480-nm pump laser diode modules for telecommunications applications, makes a variety of products under the Fitel brand name, including optical components, fusion splicers, connectors and other optical-related technology.
This is the second Fitel laser to travel aboard Discovery. Neptec used a FITEL pump laser in its space vision LCS deployed aboard Discovery in 2001 to pinpoint the position of objects in space and ultimately speed assembly of components and modules of the International Space Station. After the Columbia shuttle tragedy in 2003, Neptec developed another laser camera system that includes the Fitel laser, to meet NASA's new requirement for thorough exterior surface inspections on all shuttle missions.
The most common application for Furukawa's pump lasers are telecommunications, data communications and CATV networks, but Furukawa's pump and signal lasers are also used in a variety of precise military and commercial applications, including light detection and ranging sensing systems (LIDAR), air pressure sensing systems, industrial fiber lasers, and test and measurement systems.
For more information, visit: www.neptec.com