Space science as long played a role in the research and development of advancing technologies. Spacecraft are being launched, with hulls that are composed of carbon fibers, a light weight high strength material. Combine that with smaller on board computers that perform hundreds of times faster than computers used on spacecraft just a decade ago and one can see the why of incredible advances in space exploration in just the past few years. The advancements in material science and computer science have allowed the building, launching and deploying of space exploration systems that continually do more and more as they become smaller and lighter.
Some of the latest avenues being explored that are more in the nano realm in space science include smart materials for the hulls of spacecraft. These would be materials primarily composed of nanotube fibers with nano sized computers integrated into them. These materials along with being even lighter will also be far stronger too. One idea is to create a surface that will help transfer the aerodynamic forces working on a spacecraft during launch. When the craft is launched the nano computers will flex the crafts hull to offset pressure differences in the hull caused by the crafts acceleration through the atmosphere. Then the same nano computer network in the hull would go to work heating the shaded side of the craft and cooling the sun exposed side and to even create heat shielding for reentry. To equalize the surface temperature now, a spacecraft must be kept rotating and although a slight spin is good in maintaining the attitude of a craft somtimes it interferes with the mission plan, like when a spacecraft is taking photographs or is in the process of docking with another craft.
Another avenue being investigated is a concept of nano robotics called "Swarms". Swarms are nano robots that act in unison like bees. They theoretically, will act as a flexible cloth like material and being composed of what's called Bucky tubes, this cloth will be as strong as diamond. Add to this cloth of nano machines nano computers and you have smart cloth. This smart cloth could be used to keep astronauts from bouncing around inside their spacecraft while they sleep, a problem that arises when the auto pilot computer fires the course correction rockets. The cloth like material will be able to offset the sudden movements and slowly move the sleeping astronaut back into position. Still another application for the nano robot swarms, being considered, is that the smart cloth could be used in the astronauts space suits.
A space suit is nothing more nor less than an incredible space ship itself so this same smart cloth could be the super structure of a deep space probe replete with an on board A.I computer capable of creating the science experiments needed enroute to its destination and capable of not only making changes in mission plans but creating even new experiments as they are needed or wanted. The same super explorer could even create its own solar energy gathering panels if appropriate or utilizing R.T.G technology with plutonium also it will be able to repair itself. And while all of the above is going on the craft could even expand it's own computing capabilities if need be.
Another application of nano robots would be in carrying out construction projects in hostile environments, for example with just a handful, of self replicating robots, utilizing local materials, and local energy it's conceivable that space habitats can be completely constructed by remote control so that the inhabitants need only show up with their suitcases. Colonization of space begins to make economic sense then, since it would only take one Saturn type rocket to create a complete space colony on mars, for example. An engineer or a team of engineers could check up on the construction of the habitat via telepresents utilizing cameras and sensors created on the surface of Mars by the nano bots all from the comfortable confines of Earth. Then once the habitat is complete humans can show up to orchestrate the expansion of the exploration. Venus could be explored with nano robots too. Super Hulls could be fashioned by nano robots to withstand the intense pressures and corrosive gases of the Venusian atmosphere, to safely house nano robot built sensors and equipment. The potential in all of this is getting a lot more space exploration accomplished with less investment of resources and a lot less danger to human explorers.