The ability to move and see is every bit as useful for space hardware as it is for their human makers.
What is the Mechatronics and Optics domain?
Mechatronics is the fusion of mechanical, electrical, optical and opto-electronical, material and bio-technology systems. It contributes to the development of advanced robotics, of instrumentation for physical or life sciences, of optical instruments for remote sensing, of devices which transmit and detect light for communication or processing, as well as for the development of life support systems.
Planetary rovers and “robotic-arm” systems are the highest profile applications of robotics in space. Mobile robots designed to explore celestial bodies on or under their surfaces are on the front line of space exploration while robotic arms can perform challenging inspection and servicing duties previously undertaken by human spacewalkers.
Why is Mechatronics and Optics important?
Just as important in terms of scientific return are the kind of sophisticated experiment payloads hosted on ESA's Columbus module – such as furnaces for crystal growth and fluid science facilities for the physical sciences. On the life science side, the equipment developed includes cultivation and handling devices, contamination control (including microbial contamination) and precision cleaning as well as micro-sensors for analysis and diagnosis.
The design and verification of optical systems is another core activity, ranging from full-sized telescopes to fibre optics and photonics devices, from laser communications to lidar atmosphere-sampling sensors and space interferometers. This work extends into advanced opto-electronic systems such as superconducting magnetic field detection devices, advanced detectors operating across a broad spectral range from X-rays and gamma rays into the infrared to the application of advanced quantum states for secure communications.
Not to be forgotten, the preparation of advanced regenerative life support system needed for long term journey and stay on the Moon or Mars, including all air / water / food reclaim aspects and the related safety issues.