Robotics & Automation News

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Space robotics poised to see ‘explosive growth’, says new report

Five years ago, NASA launched a mission straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster by deploying its robotic system, Astrobees, on the International Space Station (ISS) to assist astronauts with repair and maintenance.

Fast forward to today, and space robotics has taken a giant leap forward, becoming a hotbed of innovation and investment. This burgeoning field is now at a pivotal moment, poised for explosive growth.

The past three years have seen over 40 pioneering companies enter the space robotics arena, attracting more than $200 million in venture capital, according to Technology Foresights, an innovation intelligence platform by GlobalData, a research, data and analytics company.

Space robotics focuses on designing and manufacturing robots that operate in the challenging environment of outer space, playing essential roles in a wide range of space exploration missions.

According to insights from Technology Foresights, companies in this rapidly advancing sector are developing a multitude of groundbreaking applications.

These innovations include detailed spacecraft inspection, efficient servicing of satellites, precise component assembly, reliable refueling of spacecraft, and the critical task of collecting space debris.

Each of these applications represents a significant step forward in ensuring the sustainability and advancement of space missions.

Among the more than 20 innovative technologies identified in the space sector, space robotics has demonstrated one of the highest growth rates in innovation activity over the past year.

Recognized as one of the emerging technologies by GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, space robots are at the forefront of this technological surge.

Notably, China is leading the way, accounting for 58 percent of all patent applications in this field over the last three years, with the US and Japan following closely behind.

Sourabh Nyalkalkar, practice head of innovation products at GlobalData, says: “Innovation in space technologies has been dominated by large, publicly funded space agencies for a long time.

“NASA, for example, has been experimenting with robotic astronauts, also known as cosmonauts, since 2010, developing and testing several robotic exoskeletons.

“However, the rise of IoT and robotics technology, combined with the push from venture capital and specialized large private organizations, is bringing innovative technologies like space robotics to the forefront.”

Canada-based MDA Ltd. stands out as a leader in space innovation. With experience in over 450 space missions, the company recently unveiled Skymaker, a modular robotic solution adaptable for various missions, including lunar surface landings and orbital exploration.

Similarly, Airbus has made significant strides by deploying robotic arms through its OneSat satellites in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Space agencies are also increasingly adopting robots for diverse missions. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, marked a milestone in January 2024 by successfully landing its lunar robot, SORA-Q, as part of the ‘Moon Sniper’ mission.

NASA is equally ambitious, working on a project that employs fully autonomous robots to construct shelters and solar arrays on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.

Nyalkalkar says: “The rise of new entrants in space robotics is thrilling news for the industry. Companies like China-based Aerospace New Long March EV Technology, Gitai, and Astrobotics are driving the focus towards more advanced applications of space robotics.

“Reflecting the growing confidence in this technology, Japanese startup Aeroscale, which specializes in clearing space debris, made a stellar debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, with its share prices soaring by 51 percent in the first week of June 2024.

“These early signs indicate a transformational shift led by robotics in space technology, holding the promise to turn sci-fi into reality in the near future.”

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