A new German center specializing in robotics for space and other inhospitable environments will become what is being referred to as a reference laboratory of the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) following a June 10 agreement between ESA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

The DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center, located in Oberpfaffenhofen, will ensure, among other things, that other ESA facilities are not developed to do the same spacerobotics-related work as that being conducted at the DLR site.

The regional Bavarian government and Germany’s Economics and Technology Ministry, which oversees DLR, are investing a combined 120 million euros ($145 million) in the center, which DLR officials said includes an expansion of existing facilities at the DLR site that has long existed at Oberpfaffenhofen. The center’s staff is expected to reach 250 people within three years, according to DLR.

DLR and Germany have in recent years invested in robotics for space applications, hoping to position German expertise for work in future European and international space exploration efforts, and as a leader in technologies for applications including in-orbit servicing of satellites.

Canada is laying claim to a similar role, and both nations are supporting research into future technologies to permit in-orbit repair of satellites.

At the ILA 2010 Berlin air show, DLR displayed Space Justin, a humanoid robot with five-fingered hands and an ability to return three-dimensional images of what it views.

ESA has agreed with its member states that the agency will not create centers of competence that overlap with what individual member states are doing on their own.