Home  :  Available technologies  :  Manufacturing  :  ShuttleSCAN 3-D



This technology won a 2009 R&D 100 Award and the 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award!
Read more

videoSee the ShuttleSCAN 3-D in action


ShuttleSCAN 3-D

High-Speed Three-Dimensional Laser Scanner with Real-Time Processing

NASA Ames Research Center offers for license its patented ShuttleSCAN 3-D surface scanning and profiling technology. Originally developed for critical, real-time inspection of damage to the thermal protection tiles of the Space Shuttle, this advanced system can be used for a wide range of commercial applications from product quality control to autonomous navigation. Powered by the onboard Surface Profiling and Characterization Engine (SPACE) processor, ShuttleSCAN provides real-time analysis of surfaces ranging from the small (such as circuit boards) to the large (such as panels or roads).

For more information about this licensing/development opportunity, please contact:

Technology Partnerships Office
NASA's Ames Research Center

Return to Top


  • High-speed 3-D scans: Creates more than 600,000 3-D points/second—among the highest available
  • Fast results: Provides results in real time from the integrated SPACE processor
  • Versatility: Scans areas from square centimeters to square meters
  • High resolution: Detects details smaller than .001 inch (with smallest field of view architecture)
  • Small footprint: The small 7.25 x 5.5 x 5.4-inch size and lightweight package (2.9 lbs) is also power efficient (over 1000 scans from the re-chargeable lithium battery)
  • Wireless: Offers 802.11G wireless or Gigabit Ethernet wired connectivity

Return to Top


  • Inspection of aircraft and spacecraft fuselage surfaces, wings, etc.
  • Autonomous navigation by mobile robots (e.g., Mars Rover)
  • Inspection of pipelines (oil, natural gas, water) for corrosion-related defects
  • Optical 3-D scanning of printed circuit boards for inspection and positioning
  • Scanning reusable metal hardware sealing surfaces to detect flaws that would impact sealing ability
  • Scanning industrial machined parts for dimensional accuracy
  • Road surface profiling

Return to Top

Technology Details

How it works

The scanner’s operation is based on the principle of Laser Triagulation. The ShuttleSCAN contains an imaging sensor; two lasers mounted on opposite sides of the imaging sensor; and a customized, on-board processor for processing the data from the imaging sensor. The lasers are oriented at a given angle and surface height based on the size of objects being examined. For inspecting small details, such as defects in space shuttle tiles, a scanner is positioned close to the surface. This creates a small field of view but with very high resolution. For scanning larger objects, such as use in a robotic vision application, a scanner can be positioned several feet above the surface. This increases the field of view but results in slightly lower resolution.

The laser projects a line on the surface, directly below the imaging sensor. For a perfectly flat surface, this projected line will be straight. As the ShuttleSCAN head moves over the surface, defects or irregularities above and below the surface will cause the line to deviate from perfectly straight. The SPACE processor’s proprietary algorithms interpret these deviations in real time and build a representation of the defect that is then transmitted to an attached PC for triangulation and 3-D display or printing. Real-time volume calculation of the defect is a capability unique to the ShuttleSCAN system.

Why it is better

The benefits of the ShuttleSCAN 3-D system are very unique in the industry. No other 3-D scanner can offer the combination of speed, resolution, size, power efficiency, and versatility. In addition, ShuttleSCAN can be used as a wireless instrument, unencumbered by cables.

Traditional scanning systems make a tradeoff between resolution and speed. ShuttleSCAN’s onboard SPACE processor eliminates this tradeoff. The system scans at speeds greater than 600,000 points per second, with a resolution smaller than .001". Results of the scan are available in real time, whereas conventional systems scan over the surface, analyze the scanned data, and display the results long after the scan is complete.


This technology has been patented (U.S. Patent 7,375,826 (link opens new browser window)).

Return to Top


  • 2009 R&D 100 Award (link opens new browser window)
    The prestigious R&D 100 Awards identify revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. The winning of an R&D 100 Award provides a mark of excellence known to industry, government, and academia as proof that the product is one of the most innovative ideas of the year.
  • 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award (link opens new browser window)
    (link opens new browser windoThe NASA Government Invention of the Year award and the NASA Commercial Invention of the Year are two awards established to recognize innovative inventions. Nominations are submitted by each NASA field center and evaluated by a panel of the Inventions and Contributions Board. The board determines which nominations qualify for each category, ranks the nominees, and makes recommendations to the NASA Office of the General Counsel for review and approval.
Return to Top

Commercial Opportunity

This technology is part of NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to inquire about the licensing possibilities for the 3-D Laser Scanner with Real-Time Processing (ARC-14652/15057) for commercial applications.

Return to Top

For More Information

For more information about this licensing/development opportunity, please contact:

Technology Partnerships Office
NASA's Ames Research Center

Return to Top

This technology is owned by NASA's Ames Research Center
ARC-14652 (AR-0005)