Automation and Robotics Laboratories

ESA's Automation and Robotics group is responsible for the creation and maintenance of an industrial technology base for the automation and remote control of space based operations. As such, the domain of competence of the group includes the specification and control of space robotics systems (from manipulators to autonomous vehicles) and laboratory supporting automation and robotics in manned and unmanned missions. ESA’s Automation and Robotics Laboratories (ARL) are:
  • The Orbital Robotics Lab (ORL) addressing the use of robots in free space where interaction with man-made (spacecraft) or natural (asteroid) objects is complicated by little or null gravity. 
  • The Planetary Robotics Lab (PRL) focuses on robot roaming on the surface of Moon and Mars, where interaction with the surface, regolith, rocks or boulders requires specific locomotion and navigation approaches.
  • The Human Robotics Interaction Lab (HRI) (formerly known as Telerobotics and Haptics Lab) is addressing the means of interaction between humans and remote or co-located robots with a special focus on real-time teleoperation.

The ARL is covered by the overall ISO9001:2008 certification.

For general enquires regarding this TEC location please refer to the assigned contacts:

Thomas Krueger

Human Robotics Interaction Lab

Marti Vilella Ramisa

Orbital Robotics Lab

Martin Azkarate

Planetary Robotics Lab
For testing requests, access to lab facilities, training and consultancy services, please refer to:


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Orbital Robotics Lab

The Laboratory specialises in the problems and related solutions, stemming from the use of robots in orbit (e.g. satellite/station servicing, debris removal) or in sampling in very low gravity environments (e.g. Phobos/meteroid/comet sampling). 

The lab provides tools to research, develop and validate the means to cope with proximity manoeuvring, free-space trajectory planning, navigation and localisation, free-floating contact dynamics, and low-gravity sampling. As the problems of contact dynamics and motion in free space are also faced by astronauts in orbits, the ORL can also help in the training of crew by providing a physical simulation environment. 

The lab is jointly funded and operated with the GNC test facilities in order to increase synergies between the topics in GNC and robotics.

All laboratory facilities can be remotely operated through the laboratory’s local network with great attention placed on data synchronisation and repeatability to assure top quality test results.

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Three floating systems are available:

  • REACSA/ACROBAT has an adjustable weight between 150-250 kg and allows payloads up to 100 kg. Features add-on air thrusters and reaction wheel for simulating a spacecraft’s AOCS
  • MANTIS weights 35 kg and allows payloads up to 100 kg
  • ROOTLESS2 is for the smallest payloads, decoupling the inertia of the system from the floating platform

Facility 1 


ORBIT is used to mimic the free floating nature of objects in space, to test contact dynamics, such as for active debris removal. It contains a 9m x 4.8m flatfloor area with a deviation of less than 0.8 (± 0.1)mm and a maximum inclination of < 0.3 mm/m. and a motion capture camera system that provides data about the subjects being tracked, which can be a floating object, robotic arm or interfacing structure. The floor is currently used to test close-range rendezvous, docking, berthing of free-floating objects and landing on low-gravity bodies.

Instruments & technical parameters

  • 4.8x9m Flat floor (0.8+/-0.1mm wrt gravity)
  • VICON tracking system

Facility 2


(Air Cushion ROBotic plATform)

ACROBAT is a floating platforms with airbearings. The base is without autonomy w.r.t. to control and propulsion but can be extended with the platforms SATSIM and RECAP, which add propellant, thrusters with trajectory control and a reaction wheel for heading control. It provides a standard mechanical interface common through all configurations. 

Instruments & technical parameters

  • Remotely operated free-floating robotic platform
  • Adjustable CoM, 150-250 kg platform mass
  • Payloads up to 100 kg
  • 8x air thrusters with 10 N nominal force
  • 4 kg reaction wheel

Facility 3

MANTIS Manoeuvrable Testbed for In-Orbit Simulation

MANTIS is a medium-sized floating platform with an integrated propellant tank for 25 min of autonomy. It allows payloads of up to 100 kg.

Instruments & technical parameters

  • Remotely operated free-floating robotic platform
  • 35 kg platform mass
  • Payloads up to 100 kg

Planetary Robotics Lab

ESA's Planetary Robotics Laboratory is an engineering research laboratory that specialises in the challenges that robotic probes face in the exploration of the surface of Moon and Mars.

The Mars-analogue yard is a 9 m by 9 m ‘sandbox’ terrain filled with different sizes of sand, gravel and rock. Here, small to mid-size rovers can be tested to demonstrate locomotion and navigation capabilities on a planetary surface.

The lab developed and maintains multiple rover testbeds to investigate rover locomotion, perception and autonomy, together with operational aspects. Additionally, the lab features an industrial robotic arm with six degrees of freedom and a payload capacity of 130 kg as well as state-of-the-art measurement equipment for motion capture and 3D scanning.


Facility 1

HDPR - Heavy Duty Planetary Rover

The HDPR is a rover test platform for high-speed tests in outdoor conditions (IP4). It has a design consisting of a 6-wheeled locomotion system (6x6x4) with 2 rocker-bogie passive suspension. It is a high-speed medium-size payload carrying rover locomotion platform with a remarkable payload to mass ratio. It is equipped with various camera systems and with a GPS receiver.

Instruments & technical parameters

  • Speeds up to 3.6km/h
  • Several cameras
  • Time of Flight and LiDAR sensors

Facility 2

ExoTeR - ExoMars Testing Rover

The ExoMars Testing Rover is a half-scale reproduction of the ExoMars rover that mimics the locomotion and navigation subsystems of the real rover. It also incorporates a 5-DoF arm manipulator and on-board sensors for localisation and navigation.

Instruments & technical parameters

  • Slow speeds <10cm/s
  • Stereo cameras for localisation and navigation

Facility 3

MaRTA - Martian Rover Testbed for Autonomy

MaRTA is the latest developed rover platform and currently under development for its final subsystems integration. Designed to mimic a half-scaled ExoMars rover prototype (including six wheel steering) it incorporates the latest design choices and lessons learnt from previous lab developments. MaRTA will eventually replace the ExoTeR rover which has been intensively tested for the last 10 years.

Instruments & technical parameters

  • Slow speeds <10cm/s
  • Stereo cameras for localisation and navigation

Human Robotics Interaction Lab

This laboratory is developing robotic technologies for advanced human-machine interaction. The focus is on real-time teleoperation of complex robotic systems and force feedback controls. The activities in the lab are creating and maintaining an industrial technology base for conducting space-based operations where robotic elements are remotely operated.

The laboratory regularly works with external partners and is experience in payload development for the ISS and conducting affiliated on-board experiments and operations . Its team is equipped for the rapid development of hardware and software systems, responding on a rapid turnaround basis to customer needs including the design and supply of specialised items to industry for specific projects or in the field testing, including spaceflight. Collaboration with non-space partners is also feasible, such as the offshore or nuclear industries.

The Lab possesses ISO 9001 certification for research and development, As so much of the Lab’s specialised equipment is at the forefront of technology, it has been designed, and often created, in house.

The ESA HRI laboratory has spaceflight proven competence in telerobotics, particularly with the use of haptic feedback and a history of research and development in robot exoskeletons for space use.


Facility 1


This is a highly integrated rover for demonstration purposes. It consists of two robot arms, a very rugged locomotion platform. It is equipped with a multitude of cameras and sensors (force-torque, vibration, LIDAR, IMU, GNSS) to allow the demonstration of teleoperated space mission scenarios. 

It has been used in the ISS experiments INTERACT and ANALOG-1. 

Currently it is planned to use it on Mt. Etna in the frame of the ARCHES campaign in 2022 and for the space experiment MARC-II in 2022/23. The system can be used and interfaced for multiple and projects ranging from teleoperation to semi-autonomy.

Facility 2 

Rover Testbed

This is a less integrated version of the INTERACT rover without the robotic arms. It has the same locomotion platform, same avionics and interfaces. 

It works as demonstration and research testbed for news sensor and actuators with the goal to test, experiment after evaluation to be integrated with the INTERACT rover. 

This testbed also allows due to being dust and water proof quick iterations in outdoor test runs. In addition, it is planned to serve as demonstrator for lunar construction demonstrations and can be equipped with heavy-duty construction tools

Facility 3

Multiple robotic arms

The lab has multiple industrial robotic arms and grippers at its disposal. 

The arms are the KUKA LWR, the KUKA IIWA, the FRANKA-PANDA, the Schunk LWA 4P and Haddington dynamics Dexter. For the grippers ROBOTIQUE, ON-ROBOT with force sensing as well as SHADOW and a Schunk hand are available. 

Besides the use on the rover those are used to research, demonstrate the grasping of objects, performing maintenance and investigating how they could help the operations in future space missions. 

The payload capacity of all is approx. 5-10 kg.


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