QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional barcode) first designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan.


MaxiCode is a public domain, machine-readable symbol system originally created and used by United Parcel Service. Suitable for tracking and managing the shipment of packages, it resembles a barcode, but uses dots arranged in a hexagonal grid instead of bars. MaxiCode has been standardised under ISO/IEC 16023.

Has anything like this kind of 2D matrix barcode been used in spaceflight in some systematic way? Identifiers may exist on object but were used on the ground only, and that would count if it were specific to spaceflight, but more interested in uses where recognition in space, in either manual/handheld beeping or robotic recognition.

QR code MaxiCode


The original ISS inventory management system used bar-codes.

The current inventory management system (IMS) has been successful in keeping track of 96.84% of more than 8,000 items on the Space Station, and is used to locate hardware required in the crew’s daily activities, audit consumables to ensure adequate resupply, and plan future stowage locations. Barcode labels are attached to Space Station stowage rack locations, each cargo transfer bag (CTB), and individual items aboard the Space Station—with the exception of items that are too small to be tagged and consumables such as food, clothing, and office supplies, which are not individually tracked.

In the 2004-2008 timeframe, a move was afoot to replace the system with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) based system. I don't know the outcome of that.


Astronaut Garrett Reisman discusses the system here:

"Everything on the station, pretty much everything -- I mean, like individual pieces of underwear, for example, might not have it to this detail, but -- almost every major piece of equipment up there has a barcode on it," shared Reisman.

Shuttle food had bar-codes on it too, but I don't recall them being used in flight, so I suspect they were used for keeping track on the ground.

enter image description here

(personal photo)

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    $\begingroup$ With lines like "Never Lost in Space" and "Alien Technology RFID Tags" and "Alien Squiggle" available, somehow source seems understated. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 9 '18 at 14:21

Some NASA interns used 2D barcodes as a simulated starscape for developing a navigation system, as per this July 2018 release.

Does actually navigating by the stars count? Probably not, but there are near parallels.

enter image description here

Engineering interns Tristan Schuler, left, and Greta Studier pose with 2D barcodes and a Nano Air-Bearing Simulator prototype that uses the navigation system they developed while at Marshall. Their navigation system is available as open source code on code.nasa.gov. Credits: NASA/Emmett Given

  • $\begingroup$ Actual navigation by stars would count for this question if the stars were arranged to encode information. While it's possible aliens have done that for us, we haven't done it ourselves... yet ;-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 9 '18 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ I've highlighted some phrases in the question with italics to make it clear this is absolutely an answer to the question, nice! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 9 '18 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you can check out NASA's & MIT's Spheres tests that they did on "air hockey tables" as well. However the patterns shown in Who is the space artist? Patterns on the Spheres robots on the ISS. don't count apparently. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 9 '18 at 14:50

The IEEE Spectrum article NASA Launching Astrobee Robots to Space Station mentions "AR tags" the new AstroBees will use as part of their 3D navigation and attitude control.

It seems they are also tagged themselves so that they can recognize each other's positions and attitudes as well.

AstroBees NASA ISS cropped

above: Cropped from below.

below: Source: NASA Launching Astrobee Robots to Space Station

Astrobee family: Each robot is a different color so that you can tell them apart: Queen is green, Honey is yellow, and Bumble is blue. Bumble and Honey are launching first; Queen will join the other two on orbit later this year. Photo: NASA (click for full size view)

AstroBees NASA ISS


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