Airbus Delivers First European Service Module for Orion Spacecraft
Matthew Greenwood posted on November 07, 2018 |

Airbus is bringing the European Space Agency’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft in November. The European Service Module (ESM) will maintain living conditions for the crew while getting them to their eventual destination.

The ESM functions as Orion’s main propulsion system and is also responsible for orbital maneuvering and position control. In addition, it provides life support for the crew: water, oxygen and nitrogen, and temperature control while connected to the crew module, which is being built by Lockheed Martin. And when unpressurized, the ESM can serve as an additional cargo module.

The ESM contains more than 20,000 parts and components: electrical circuits, engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support materials—all connected by about six miles of cables and tubing. Its distinctive four-wing solar array, over 60 feet across when unfolded, generates enough power to keep two households running. It contains 8.6 tons of fuel to power its main engine and 32 smaller thrusters. When it launches, the ESM will weigh about 13 tons.

Technicians worked 24 hours a day in three shifts to get the ESM ready. The last component to be installed, in September, was a radiator: once it was installed, the technicians could no longer access internal components. After thorough testing, the ESM was ready for delivery to NASA.

Airbus engineers test the ESM’s engine gimbal system before delivery to NASA.

The ESM was transported by cargo aircraft to the Kennedy Space Center. Its next voyage is a mundane one: a transfer to NASA’s Plum Brook facility in Ohio for acoustic and vacuum chamber testing that simulates a launch environment and conditions in space. Eventually, technicians will undertake the complex work of integrating it with the other Orion components.

“The delivery of the first European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is a hugely significant moment,” said Oliver Juckenhöfel, Head of On-Orbit Services and Exploration at Airbus.

But the aerospace company is not taking a break now that the first ESM is being delivered. “We have already begun work on the integration of the second service module in our clean rooms,” Juckenhöfel said. The second module’s structure is already complete and internal components are being installed.

Orion’s first launch with NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket is scheduled for 2020. That mission will have no crew, but it will be an important test run for the ESA before Orion’s first crewed mission in 2022.

Want to learn more about Lockheed Martin’s work on the Orion and the company’s plans for space travel? Check out Lockheed Martin on Our Future on Mars.

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