Second European service module ready for delivery to NASA

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The second European service module built by Airbus for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is ready for delivery from the Airbus site in Bremen, Germany.

An Antonov cargo plane will fly the ESM-2 to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States. The European Space Agency has selected Airbus as prime contractor for the development and manufacture of six ESMs, with the first ESM soon to fly on NASA’s Artemis I mission.

ESM is a key component of Orion, the next-generation spacecraft that will transport astronauts beyond low earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s. The module provides the propulsion , power and thermal control and will provide astronauts with water and oxygen on future missions. The ESM is installed under the crew module and together they form the Orion spacecraft.

“The delivery of the second European service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft marks another big step forward in the journey to bring astronauts back to the moon. Working hand in hand with our customers ESA and NASA, and our industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Space, the program is advancing rapidly and we are ready to meet the challenges of returning to the lunar surface in 2024, ”said Andreas Hammer, responsible for space. Exploration at Airbus.

The ESM-2 underwent a full validation process before being ready for shipment, including testing the module’s main engine nacelle (which swivels side to side for maneuvering and directional control during space flight). This main engine is a refurbished engine of the space shuttle Atlantis.

After completing its transatlantic voyage, the ESM-2 will be mated to the Orion crew module and undergo further extensive testing prior to integration with the launcher – a process that will take approximately two years.

The launch of the first Orion spacecraft on NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket will be unmanned and will take the spacecraft more than 40,000 miles beyond the moon to demonstrate its capabilities. The first manned space mission, Artemis II, will be powered by the ESM-2.

The design of the Orion spacecraft allows astronauts to be transported further into space than ever before. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts, providing vital support to the crew during flight and enabling a safe return to Earth’s atmosphere at extremely high reentry speeds.

The ESM includes more than 20,000 parts and components, from electrical equipment to motors, solar panels, fuel tanks and survival materials, as well as several kilometers of cables and tubes.

The ESM is a cylinder about four meters high and wide. Comparable to the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV 2008 – 2015), also built by Airbus, it has a distinctive four-wing solar panel (19 meters in diameter when deployed) that generates enough energy to power two homes. The 8.6 tons of service module fuel can power the main engine, eight auxiliary thrusters and 24 small thrusters used for attitude control.

At launch, the ESM weighs a total of just over 13 tonnes. In addition to its function as the main propulsion system of the Orion spacecraft, the ESM will be responsible for orbital maneuvers and position control. It also provides the crew with core survival elements such as water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control when docked to the crew module. Additionally, the unpressurized service module can be used to carry additional payload.

In the longer term, there are plans to dock the Orion spacecraft at the International Lunar Gateway – a lunar orbiting platform that will enable sustainable space exploration architecture extending humanity’s presence in space.

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