Geomagic Studio 3D scanning and processing software
Geomagic Inc.
Research Triangle Park, NC

Ceramic tiles used on the underside of the NASA Discovery shuttle protect the spacecraft and its astronauts from 2300-degree heat as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. When Discovery launches again, Geomagic’s 3D scanning and processing technology will inspect tile conditions and help bring the astronauts back to Earth safely.

altDuring space travel, an orbiter’s tiles may be hit by flying debris or other foam particles dislodged from the shuttle. Using the Neptec Laser Camera System (LCS), mounted on a 50-foot-long extension of Discovery’s robot arm, Geomagic scanning technology detects cracks in the tiles, some as small as half a millimeter. The tool also operates without available light, a major advantage in space, where the Sun rises and sets frequently.

As the shuttle approaches the space station for its rendezvous, the Geomagic software conducts video surveys and detailed 3D-scanning inspections of the wings’ tiles. The data is then transmitted to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Geomagic Studio uses patented algorithms to create a three-dimensional model of the tiles.

If the digital model indicates a safety threat, NASA’s ArcJet facility engineers use test tiles to replicate the damage and determine if the tiles can handle the heat and stress of a reentry. If damage is considered too extensive, astronauts will conduct a spacewalk to make repairs. Although an in-flight fix has not been necessary in previous Discovery flights, test tiles would be used to develop the step-by-step repair process during a spacewalk scenario.

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