Chinese scientists have developed the world’s most sensitive “eye” guidance system that will enable two orbiting spacecraft – travelling at up to eight times the speed of a bullet – to dock more safely and efficiently. The “eye” technology was China’s newly developed third-generation rendezvous and docking optical imaging sensor, the Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. It will be used on China’s second orbiting space lab, Tiangong-2 (or Heavenly Palace-2), the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and the permanent manned space station. “Good eyesight is crucial for one spacecraft chasing another for hundreds of thousands of kilometres to achieve a perfect rendezvous and docking – it’s like threading the needle,” said Gong Dezhu, a designer at the China Academy of Space Technology. “The last 150 metres between the two spacecraft is the most critical moment. A slight deviation during docking might lead to a disaster, like the one caused by Mann, the main antagonist in the movie Interstellar .” Compared with the optical imaging sensor used in the docking of the nation’s experimental laboratory, Tiangong-1, and the Shenzhou spacecraft, the new “eye” technology enables astronauts to see more clearly under direct sunlight, which will greatly improve safety. The window period of the docking process will also be twice as long. “And the reaction time between the ‘eye’ capturing the first sight of its target and recognising it has been shortened from 10 seconds to less than one second,” Gong said. The sensor’s weight and power consumption was only half that of comparable products internationally, Gong added. Such ‘eyes” could also be used on mechanical arms, and for refueling and repairing of spacecraft, as well as aerial refueling and docking of underwater vehicles, experts have said. Advancing China’s space programme has been set as a priority by leaders in Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for China to establish itself as a space power. China insists that its space programme is for peaceful purposes. However, the US Defence Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying the mainland was pursuing activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis. In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with Tiangong-1. China plans to launch the Tiangong-2 next year, and send the Chang’e-5 to collect samples from the moon and return to earth around 2017. A permanently manned space station is planned for about 2022. China’s space programme still lags those of the United States and Russia despite considerable advances. It must still master launching cargo and fuel via space freighters and recycling air and water for extended manned missions, state media have said.