NASA is evaluating a new tool that has the potential to look through shuttle wings and can “see” subtle, potentially fatal defects invisible to current nondestructive testing and imaging systems. Called the Digitome Volumetric X-Ray Imaging System, the new inspection unit found minute cracks in the internal structure of a wing leading edge carbon-composite panel removed from the Orbiter and subjected to similar conditions to the Columbia on lift-off.

NASA has purchased and installed the system at the Marshall Space Flight Center for evaluation of the technology. The Digitome system is being evaluated for potential use to test components for space travel for defects that may have occurred during manufacture or as the result of impacts or stresses during space flight.

During testing, the Digitome VXI-1200C system not only detected the presence of cracks, but also was able to measure accurately the width of the defects along the entire length of each crack.

Digitome’s system combines conventional X-ray imaging hardware and proprietary software. The system “dials” through any object, producing images on a computer screen that can be manipulated for closer inspection.

“The Digitome system has demonstrated it can find otherwise-undetectable potential-failure regions in a wide range of voluminous or even solid metal objects,” explains Bill Dryden, Vice President Operations, Digitome. “For instance, it has been used to inspect jet-engine turbine blades – defects that could knock out the engine of a passenger jet if a blade failed in flight.”

The Digitome system can be used with any penetrating radiation – x-ray, neutron beams or a radioactive source.

“We can use the Digitome to look through almost any material. For instance, we can use it to inspect any object a terrorist might have chosen to hide a weapon in, such as hand luggage and or boxes packed to go on an airline or cargo ship,” Dryden said.

Digitome’s system is being evaluated by NASA as a candidate method to test wing leading edge panels and other components being developed for future spacecraft under a variety of simulated conditions such as take-off, re-entry and landing. During field-testing at the Marshall Center, the company will work to develop techniques for inspecting wing leading edge panels after installation on the structure and after the Shuttle is used for orbital missions.

Digitome is also working on concepts for a portable unit that astronauts could use inside and outside the Shuttle in space to analyze potential problems encountered in flight such as debris hitting the vehicle on lift off or flight that might endanger the vehicle’s stability or structure.

Digitome Corporation’s patented technique views internal features of any object or “volume” without disturbing the integrity of the original. The company’s x-ray-based technology reconstructs the full volume – displaying any plane on any axis – and then “dials through” contiguous levels along a selected axis. Features can be magnified and measured accurately, including along a widening crack or inside a hollow core.

Digitome Corporation is an imaging technology company that has developed a patented method of analyzing and measuring the presence, volume and internal features of any object using non-destructive penetrating radiation – typically x-rays. Validated over several years through inspection of difficult objects including solid or hollow items or items placed randomly within a container, Digitome technology is available as a turnkey system or can be integrated into user’s existing system. Digitome also licenses its technology to original equipment manufacturers for integration into their existing products.

Digitome Corporation headquarters are in Davidson, N.C.

NOTE: A spokesperson from NASA will be available for questions after 10:30 a.m. PST. Please call Derek Asato (310) 785-0515 Ext. 201.


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