Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently announced the successful demonstration of a proximity sensor, called DragonEye, on NASA’s STS-127 shuttle mission.

“The verification and functionality of SpaceX’s DragonEye are a testament to the unique government-commercial partnership created by NASA’s COTS program,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President, SpaceX. “SpaceX appreciates NASA’s support with DragonEye and is proud to be a part of a program that is shaping the future of American spaceflight.”

DragonEye launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on July 15th, 2009, and was tested in proximity of the International Space Station (ISS) in preparation for future visits by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

With the help of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, DragonEye, a Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor, has undergone flight system trials aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in preparation for guiding the Dragon spacecraft as it approaches the ISS. The DragonEye LIDAR system provides three-dimensional images based on the amount of time it takes for a single laser pulse from the sensor to the reach a target and bounce back, providing range and bearing information from the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.

DragonEye will make its operational debut on the final flight of the Dragon spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, where the spacecraft will demonstrate the ability to berth with the ISS.

Developed in just 10 months from concept to final hardware, DragonEye was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on February 16th, 2009, for integration with the Space Shuttle Endeavour, successfully completing all of NASA’s payload safety milestones.

Using flight data gathered onboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, DragonEye was able to detect the ISS and track it through various approach and departure maneuvers. Upon Endeavour’s return, the DragonEye system was returned to SpaceX, where flight data from the sensor was retrieved and is currently under evaluation.

Together with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the Dragon spacecraft is under contract with NASA to provide cargo resupply to the ISS when the Space Shuttle retires. This contract includes 12 flights between 2010 and 2015, with a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to be carried to the ISS. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return cargo to Earth.