High-performance 3D flash-lidar technology is urgently needed for landing on solar-system bodies and spacecraft rendezvous and docking with satellites or asteroids. Similarly, the problem of autonomous rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking is challenging for complex space missions. Some of these applications include: asteroid sample return and redirect, space-debris removal, human landing on the moon and Mars, lunar mining, autonomous resupply and crew transportation to and from the International Space Station, robotic servicing/refueling of existing orbital assets, and on-orbit assembly. Other applications include ranging and altimetry, and atmospheric profiling.
Commercial markets include lidar for: scanned lidar for robotics and human computer interfacing; building-information management (BIM); and automobile driver assistance and autonomous navigation. Most current lidar approaches are significantly limited by their hazard to the human eye. Many lidar systems are being developed in the invisible wavelength of 905 nm. Lasers that emit at this wavelength can potentially damage eyes. Due to ocular-damage threshold levels, the optical power of the lasers must be kept low. Lower laser power limits the range of lidar systems, making it difficult to cover large areas. With highly sensitive detectors operational in the eyesafe spectral region, with low-cost lasers operating at 1500-nm, a million-times-greater laser-pulse energy is permissible, allowing for more compact mobile lidar systems in a low-cost product.