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The new SLS rocket will launch each part of Artemis program’s missions with the Orion spacecraft on top. (Photo: NASA)

Airbus Wins ESA Contract to Construct Space Module for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded Airbus the contract to allow the aircraft manufacturer to construct the third European Service Module (ESM) for Orion, the American crewed spacecraft. The ESA’s order for this additional module ensures that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is able to continue its Artemis program.  

Within the Artemis program, NASA will use the European built systems completed by Airbus for the first time to power and supply a human spacecraft mission to the moon in 2024, already deemed as the third part of the program. The ESM will provide propulsion, power, air and water for the crew as well as thermal control for NASA’s brand new spacecraft. Meanwhile, in 2021, the first non-crewed Orion test flight with an ESM will launch. 

During the development and construction of the ESM, Airbus has drawn on its experience as prime contractor for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which provided the crew onboard the International Space Station with regular deliveries of test equipment, spare parts, food, air, water and fuel. Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus praises the joint partnership and the increase in knowledge that will lay the foundation for an efficient plan. This will eventually advance the role of aviation has in combining technology and space in the U.S. and Europe.

“Our know-how and expertise will enable us to continue to facilitate future Moon missions through international partnerships. By working together with our customers, ESA and NASA as well as our industrial partner Lockheed Martin, we now have a reliable planning basis for the first three lunar missions,” Hammer said. “This contract is an endorsement of the joint approach combining the best of European and American space technologies.”

Over 20,000 parts and components are used in each ESM, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support supplies for astronauts. While NASA received the first ESM back in 2018 after thermal-vacuum testing, the second ESM is currently being tested by Airbus, with the expected delivery date set for sometime in the first half of 2021. David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration asserts that the ESM allows Europe to be a strong and dependable partner in NASA’s Artemis program and could lead to more awareness about science and missions into space. 

“By entering into this agreement, we are again demonstrating that Europe is a strong and reliable partner in Artemis. The European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this, allowing scientific research, development of key technologies and international cooperation – inspiring missions that expand humankind’s presence beyond Low Earth Orbit,” Parker said.

Benjamin Pham
Benjamin Pham
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