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Neptec Design Group

Neptec Design Group
Type Private
Industry Machine Vision
Founded 1990
Headquarters Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Key people Iain Christie (CEO)
Products SVS, LCS, TriDAR
Employees 80
Website www.neptec.com

Neptec Design Group is an Ottawa based, Canadian vision systems company, providing machine vision solutions for space, industrial, and military applications. Privately owned and founded in 1990, Neptec is a NASA prime contractor, supplying operational systems to both the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Starting in 2000, Neptec began expanding its technology to include active 3D imaging systems and 3D processing software. This work led directly to the development of Neptec's Laser Camera System, which is an operational system used by NASA to inspect the shuttle's external surfaces during flight. Building on Laser Camera System technology, Neptec has also developed a 3D imaging and tracking system designed for automated on-orbit rendezvous, inspection and docking. The TriDAR combines a high precision, short range triangulation sensor with a long range LIDAR sensor into the same optical path.

Laser Camera System

The Laser Camera System (LCS) is short-range, high precision autosynchronous triangulation scanner. The camera uses a laser to measure the distance between itself and points on a target and is able to create a three-dimensional representation of the area it has scanned.

First demonstrated on the Shuttle Discovery Mission STS-105 in August 2001, Neptec’s prototype LCS was the first dual target tracking and imaging three-dimensional scanner to fly in space. It wasn’t until 2004, after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy that the LCS became a primary focus to both Neptec and NASA.

To ensure the safety of future missions, NASA required a means to determine the amount of damage, if any, was sustained by a shuttle during the launch phase. In response to this requirement, Neptec Design Group developed the Laser Camera System (LCS) in 14 months. The LCS made its first mission in July 2005 on NASA’s STS-114 Return to Flight shuttle mission and was a mandatory system for subsequent shuttle missions.

The LCS was part of a larger sensor system that is installed on a 50-foot boom extension that provided additional reach for the Remote Manipulator System (Canadarm). This Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) was used to inspect areas of the shuttle that were previously not visible to the astronauts inside. The LCS was used to scan and characterize the underside of the shuttle while in orbit. While looking at the shuttle’s tiles and panels from the height of a first story window, Neptec’s scanner was able to detect cracks less than a millimeter thick. Because it was a 3D scanner, it was also able to measure the depth of cracks or holes that were found. The scanner then sent these measurements to Earth where the data was analyzed in detail by Neptec engineers in NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. During STS-114, critical on-orbit data was often processed and in the hands of the Space Shuttle mission managers within an hour of being collected on orbit.

Neptec’s LCS continued to fly as an operational part of the OBSS on the remaining Space Shuttle Missions.

Neptec LCS Missions:

Mission Date Orbiter
STS 114 (Return to Flight) Discovery July 26, 2005
STS 121 Atlantis July 4, 2006
STS 115 Discovery September 9, 2006
STS 116 Atlantis December 9, 2006
STS 117 Discovery June 8, 2007
STS 118 Endeavour August 8, 2007
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