HOUSTON — NASA Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. say they have developed sensor technology that will allow the Orion exploration vehicle’s crew to safely rendezvous with destinations in space.

Astronauts will test Orion’s docking technology during NASA’s last scheduled shuttle mission in February.

The crew will undock from the International Space Station circle around it and dock again using the new docking technology.

If successful in space the system will safely and easily allow Orion to dock at the space station the Hubble Space Telescope and land on asteroids Howard Hu Lockheed Martin’s Orion System Performance and Analysis Office manager said.

Lockheed Martin and Ball on July 20 successfully performed a technology demonstration of the system in Boulder Colo.

The system uses an advanced sensor and a high-definition camera to relay information including range and light detection about an intended landing surface.

February’s shuttle test of the docking system is a critical component of Orion’s preparation.

Landing a vehicle is one of the most dangerous maneuvers in space Pam Melroy Lockheed Martin’s Space Explorations Initiatives director and deputy program manager said.

”Ascent and entry are very critical to space flight” Melroy said.

”Testing the system in the harsh environment of space will give us the best data on how the sensors would actually perform.”

The shuttle crew will determine what works and what doesn’t in the system.

The sensor and camera provide real-time 3-D images with a resolution 16 times greater than current space shuttle sensors.

The sensor can pick up information about a landing target as far as 3 miles away Hu said.

Current shuttle sensors can detect information about a target only half a mile away.

Fewer crew members would have to guide the vehicle during landing which would make room for more scientists and researchers aboard Orion Melroy said.

The advanced system also will cut training time for Orion pilots.

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