The use of lidar was recently tested on a docking procedure at the International Space Station.
The image on the left shows how far each element of the Space Station is from ATV-5, with arbitrarily chosen colors corresponding to their distance from LIRIS.
Russia’s Zvezda module, where Georges Lemaître now sits, shows up in green from 30 m, while the Soyuz was 15 m further away (yellow). The Station’s main truss is in purple, 40 m from Zvezda.
The advantage of the LIRIS approach is that it scans objects and gathers information about them without a dedicated communications link or hardware installed on the targets.
The sensors can track targets equally well during darkness and provide detailed 3D maps of an object, increasing the autonomy of a craft and allowing it to navigate around a target. LIRIS-type systems are needed for future ventures deeper into space and to help remove large pieces of debris from Earth orbit.