ESA title
Optical Communication Facility
Enabling & Support

Mechatronics and Optics, incl. robotics and life support

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ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Engineering & Technology

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?

Herschel - View of optical mirrors
Herschel - View of optical mirrors

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. 

RAT rover by night
RAT rover by night

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.

Life Support and Physical Sciences Laboratory
Life Support and Physical Sciences Laboratory

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.

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