Introduction

Nanotechnology is regarded world-wide as one of the key technologies of the 21st Century. Nanotechnological products and processes hold an enormous economic potential for the markets of the future. The production of ever smaller, faster and more efficient products with acceptable price-to-performance ratio has become for many industrial branches an increasingly important success factor in the international competition. The technological competence in nanotechnology will be a compelling condition to compete successfully with better procedures and products on high technology markets in the future. Due to its interdisciplinary cross-section character, nanotechnology will affect broad application fields within the ranges of chemistry/materials, medicine/life sciences, electronics/information technology, environmental and energy engineering, automotive manufacturing as well as optics/analytics and precision engineering in various ways.

Also in space technology a high potential for nanotechnological applications is postulated. The increasing commercialisation of manned and unmanned space travel as well as ever more ambitious missions for the scientific investigation of the solar system and far space, require the development of more efficient, more economical and more resistant space technologies and systems in the future. Nanotechnology could contribute significantly to solutions and technological breakthroughs in this area (nano-spin-on).

In this context nanotechnological improvements of space technology and systems are to be considered both in a short to medium-term time scale as well as on a long-term basis in view of visionary applications of molecular nanotechnology, which might be realized- if at all- only in the distant future. Examples of such visionary applications of molecular nanotechnology in space are the terraforming of other planets through raw material extraction and material synthesis, the construction of a „space elevator" by applying ultrastrong carbon nanotube materials or the extreme miniaturization and integration of space systems in the sense of a "flying chip".

Meanwhile however, various applications of nanotechnology in space technology appear to be feasible in a short to medium-term time horizon, which could lead to major improvements in the area of lightweight and strong space structures, improved systems and components of energy production and storage, data processing and transmission, sensor technology as well as life support systems. Appropriate research and development projects have already been performed in particular by NASA for some years with substantial financial measures. In Germany and in Europe the situation is different. In the German and European space agencies nanotechnology is still regarded so far rather as a subordinated topic in

Expected nanotechnology spin-on for space

Visionary applications

Short to medium term applications

Extensive nanotechnolo-gy activities of NASA

In Germany and Europe little contacts between space and nanotechnolo-gy communities the field of microtechnologies and R&D activities are rare. For the future, however, the ESA attaches a greater importance to nanotechnology, e.g. in the framework of the AURORA program, which is dedicated to the long term exploration of the solar system. Also the space industry pursues the area of nanotechnology with increasing awareness.

Expected space spin-off On the other side, space flight could be utilized for research and deve-

lopment in the field of nanotechnology as well. As an example the use of microgravity for investigations and optimizations of production processes for nanomaterials or nanostructures can be mentioned. Experiments in microgravity could supply relevant data regarding particle interactions or self-organization phenomena, which could be used for modelling and optimization of terrestrial process technologies in the range of nanotech-nology. These examples represent potential space spin-offs for nanotechnology.

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