What benefits does the Automation and Robotics Laboratory deliver?
The Robotics and Automation Laboratory supports a large number of ESA and external projects in many varied fields. Its research has supported the development of the Microgravity Facilities for Columbus (MFC), miniaturised multi-user laboratories flying on Europe's ISS module.
Their highly automated designs provide scientific functionality equivalent to an entire terrestrial research centre with minimal crew intervention required. For example the Biolab, used for biological research, incorporates a robotic handling mechanism for moving samples while the Fluid Science Laboratory for fluid physics can operate in fully automated mode.
The Laboratory has also developed automated systems flown on the Foton series of unmanned test platforms. In particular its testing supported development of the Telescience Support Unit, an avionics unit allowing experiment scientists to interact with their experiments in flight.
The Laboratory's work with vision systems has led to the development of the Erasmus Recording Binocular (ERB), a stereoscopic camera that records 3D footage. Since it was flown to the ISS in 2006 it has documented the station environment in unprecedented detail, creating an accurate map of its current interior.
The Laboratory also oversaw hardware and software test campaigns for the European Robot Arm (ERA), a multi-segmented role designed to assist with assembly of the Russian section of the ISS after it launches around 2011, as well as Eurobot, proposed for orbital deployment later in the next decade.
The Laboratory has also worked to evaluate a number of planetary probes: ExoMars is the most prominent – it will possess high onboard autonomy allowing great science return in a relatively short mission time – but the Laboratory also evaluated microrobots for the original BepiColombo mission, for the proposed MarsNet mission and aerobots for a return to Titan.
The Laboratory's continuing work on automated probes and rovers takes in missions to the Moon and other solar system bodies. It also supports the joint ESA-NASA initiative for Mars exploration, an ability set to culminate in a Mars Sample Return design, the most ambitious and challenging Martian mission short of a crewed landing.
Last update: 4 September 2013