• A computer-generated image shows Dextre, the ISS's robotic handyman, holding the new Canadian-designed vision system. (Photo: Canadian Space Agency, Neptec)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will soon have more time to focus on science, thanks to a Canadian innovation that aims to take a few maintenance chores off their hands.

Canada is investing $1.7 million in a new vision system for Dextre, the ISS's robotic handyman, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced Thursday. Using a 3D laser, a high-definition camera, and an infrared camera, Dextre’s new vision system will help spot signs of damage on the station's ageing external infrastructure.

The investment solidifies Canada's position as a world leader in space robotics and optics, said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development at the CSA's headquarters in St-Hubert, Que.

"The Government of Canada is pleased to contribute this new technology that combines these strengths, while giving the world a new vantage point on the International Space Station," Bains said.

Ottawa-based Neptec Ltd is designing the vision system, which is expected to launch in 2020. Roughly the size of a microwave oven, the system will be able to reveal damage that may be invisible to the naked eye or that is located in hard-to-reach places.

The system will cut down on the number of risky spacewalks undertaken by astronauts and also provide new images of the ISS to the public.

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