Machine vision and robot aid rocket nozzle welding

Europe's Ariane 5 rocket was recently assisted into orbit by vision-guided robotic welding of the rocket’s upper stage nozzle.

Europe's Ariane 5 rocket made its 50th flight from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on 21st May 2010. One of Britain’s contributions was the machine vision equipment that enabled the robotic welding of the rocket’s upper stage nozzle.

Supplied by Meta Vision Systems (Oxford, UK) the laser-based tracking system detects a joint even when there is no discernable gap or step. Called Meta Scout, the equipment was specified by Astrium (Ottobrunn, Germany), a contractor to EADS for the Ariane 5.

Before welding, the nozzle profile is created by bundling the tubes together and spiral winding them around a copper-coated aluminum mandrel. The tubes are held together with binding wire, which is unwound step by step as welding proceeds.

Total welded seam length in each nozzle is approximately 730 m. During a majority of the welding process, the Meta-Scout resolves the seam between adjacent tubes and follows it conventionally. A structured light technique together with grey level vision analysis determines seam position, height and orientation with respect to the tool, despite the absence of a physical feature.

A video of the automated TIG welding process in action may be seen HERE.

Posted by Conard Holton
Vision Systems Design

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