19 May 2014 – The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the world’s second largest space company Airbus Defence and Space’s system design of the European Service Module (ESM) for the American human Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) Orion, containing the critical propulsion, power supply and components of the life-support systems of the spacecraft. This approval gives the green light for the implementation phase, meaning that the initial hardware can now be built in the form of a structural test model.
This model will initially be used for static tests, which are due to start in the next few months. Dynamic tests e.g. simulating loads during launch will then follow over the course of next year.
This is the first time that Europe is producing critical space components for the American Orion mission. In December 2012, US space agency NASA and the ESA agreed to certify the US’ new Orion MPCV in conjunction with the ESM. This module is based on the design and the experience gained from the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) developed and constructed by Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of ESA and used to carry supplies to the International Space Station.
“The approval of our system design by ESA together with NASA and prime project contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems is a significant step in the programme. We have demonstrated the project’s maturity and are now able to move from the paper-based stage to producing the actual hardware,” said François Auque, Head of Space Systems.
“The fact that NASA has entrusted Europe with system-critical elements is a clear sign of its confidence in the transatlantic partnership and in its European partners’ capabilities. Airbus Defence and Space and its European partners have, with ATV, developed and constructed a technological showcase project, thus paving the way for this cooperation,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
The intention is to use the Orion MPCV for human missions to the Moon, to asteroids and into deep space. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is developing and constructing the space capsule for four or more astronauts on behalf of NASA. The MPCV-ESM, which is being developed and built by Airbus Defence and Space and based on the ATV, will provide spacecraft propulsion, power supply and life-support systems.
An initial Orion mission, or “Exploration Mission 1”, is planned to be an unmanned distant retrograde mission to the lunar Lagrangian points. The aim of this mission is not only to demonstrate the spacecraft’s performance capabilities before it flies with astronauts, but also to achieve qualification for NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket. As part of “Exploration Mission 2”, the Orion MPCV is scheduled to be launched into space in 2021/22 with astronauts on board.