Advancements in Automation and Robotic Solutions for Space Applications Are Changing the Way Space is Explored

Space robots play a key role in autonomous vehicles for asteroid mining and space exploration activities such as exploration of Mars, Moon, and other planets. Future space exploration missions will require advanced vehicles, robotic assistants, and self-sufficient spacecraft systems which can adapt to complex, rapidly changing environments.

In recent years, there have been significant technological advancements in the space industry in terms of servicing of satellites, on-orbit manufacturing & assembly, in-space 3D printing, launch systems, and resupply missions.Space robotics can increase the overall capability of humans in terms of conducting space exploration missions. They enable access to areas that are otherwise inaccessible through traditional space exploration vehicles due to harsh environmental conditions. Space robotic solutions cover all kinds of robotics and autonomous systems for theexploration of space as well as robotics used in near earth orbit and deeper space orbit and the sensors required in ground platforms for navigation and control.

Since 2017, one of the factors driving the growth of the space industry has been the growing importance of on-orbit satellite servicing. Several use cases have been documented for satellites that support the infrastructure of modern society, particularly the communication satellite services. Key factors responsible for the rising demand for on-orbit satellite servicing include increased autonomy of robotic systems, availability of advanced tools and end-effectors for robots, and the emergence of modular robotic systems that can move around large structures in space. In January 2018, Intelsat (Luxembourg) ordered Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) from Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) to increase the life of Intelsat spacecraft. MEVs provide mission extension services to satellites already in orbit.

Analysis indicates that the space robotics market is expected to reach USD 4.36 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 8.64% from 2018 to 2023.

Space Robotics Missions in Pipeline




Launch Year


Osiris-Res-Sample Return

Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA)







Chang’E 4








Mars 2020




ExoMars 2020




Chinese Space Station

Earth Orbit

2020 (Expected)

Europe & China

Phobos Sample Return



Key Application Areas of Space Robotics
Space robotics enables human exploration in near space and deep space.Automation and robotics are a necessity for in-space maintenance, on-orbit manufacturing, space exploration, etc.

NewSpace robots are equipped with new sensing techniques that can provide Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite servicing;on-orbit manufacturing & assembly; 3Dperception; space mining; ability to swim, climb, dig, fly, navigate, and dock spacecraft without humans, as well as to interact with humans.  

In-space Maintenance and Inspection
In space maintenance and inspection includes on-orbit satellite servicing and refill, repair, removal, and replacement of faulty modules/packages. Satellite operators and manufacturers, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are planning a series of demonstration programs to prove that satellites can be repaired and refueled in orbit without making heavy investments.

NewSpaceindustry players provides satellite servicing and refueling and mission extension services to satellite operators/owners. These services extend the life of satellites,help generate more revenue from existing satellite fleets, and provide greater flexibility in managing in-orbit satellite fleets.

Space Operations/Scientific Experimentation
Space operations/scientific experimentation includes surface and in-space human assistance, instrument deployment, and sample manipulation. Space agencies and commercial companies are conducting research activities in the field of advanced robotic technologies to de-orbit non-functional and large objects. The growing levels of artificial objects and debris around the around the Earth’s orbitis leading to an increased risk of collision with a cascading effect. According to the American Astronautical Society (AAS), NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have agreed to remove approximately five objects from space per year to balance the environment.

In-Space 3DPrinting
3Dprinting is very useful for many space applications.Some experiments already occurred inside of the International Space Station(ISS), regarding the additive manufacturing technology.3D-printing is a crucial step in the rapid increase of highly adaptable space infrastructure. 3D-printing will revolutionize traditional manufacturing by providing building blocks for functional and complex infrastructures.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has made significant investments in developing technologies that are key to 3Dprinting and orbital manufacturing and assembly. In the commercial sector, both large and small business entities are actively engaged in orbital manufacturing and assembly activities. A US-based company Made in Space has worked with NASA to create a 3D printer inside of the ISS. Made in Space is working on a new 3D printer, Archinaut, which is expected to be able to 3D print an entire satellite outside the station.

Space Exploration
Space robots are the most successful tool for space exploration. Robots used in space exploration include orbiters, rovers, and landers. Robots are widely used wherever there is a need for better use of tools and data collection in space. Increasing autonomy and onboard decision-making for orbiters and rovers enable them to detect new, unexpected features. The demand for robotic solutions is increasing due to the increasing near-earth asteroid and mining activities.

Currently, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and some of the other space agencies,includeing Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), ESA, China National Space Administration (CNSA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA or Roscosmos) are planning to conduct space exploration missions to explore planets such as Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Space Transportation
Space transportation includes resupply of equipment and materials to the International Space Station (ISS) and transportation of crew from the Earth to space. Resupply missionssupport the ISS for the delivery of cargo, mission repair, crew transportation, and integrated mission operations.Space shuttle and Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS)have been used to move crewmembers from onelocation to another and to assist in moving assemblycomponents.
Space automation and robotics systemssupport manipulation and transportation capabilities to assemble, operate, and maintain hardware comprising the outside part of ISS.



Date: Oct 11, 2018