3 more European Service Modules from Airbus for NASA’s lunar mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) has contracted Airbus to construct three additional European Service Modules (ESM) for Orion, the crewed spacecraft for NASA’s upcoming lunar Artemis programme.

NASA had earlier awarded a contract to Airbus for the delivery of three ESMs for the Artemis programme.

The ESM will provide critical functions, such as the propulsion system, to carry NASA’s astronauts around, and to the Moon, and the life support system the astronauts will need to stay alive.

Each ESM is cylindrical in shape and about four metres in diameter and height.

It has four solar arrays (19 metres across when unfurled) that generate enough energy to power two households.

The service module’s 8.6 tonnes of fuel can power one main engine and 32 smaller thrusters.

Each ESM weighs a total of just over 13 tonnes.

Critical role

In addition to its function as the main propulsion system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, each ESM will be responsible for orbital manoeuvring and position control.

It will also provides the astronaut crew with the central elements of life support such as water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control while attached to the crew module.

Artemis I, the first non-crewed Orion test flight with an ESM will fly in 2021.

The subsequent Artemis II mission will also use an ESM to carry NASA astronauts around the Moon and back to Earth.

With Artemis III, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.

The ESMs will also be used for the Artemis IV to VI missions, the first two of which are part of the European contribution to the international Gateway planned to be assembled starting from 2024 in a lunar orbit.

Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration, Airbus, said: “Europe has entered a new decade of exploration. Building six Orion European Service Modules is a venture like no other.

“Airbus has some of the world’s best minds in space exploration working on this phenomenal vehicle and this new agreement will facilitate many future Moon missions through international partnerships.

‘Strong European role’

“Europe is a strong and reliable partner in NASA’s Artemis missions and the Orion European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this,” Hammer added.

David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA, said: “This contract doubles Europe’s commitment to delivering the vital hardware to send humankind to the Moon on Orion.

“Together with the elements we are building for the lunar Gateway we are guaranteeing seats for ESA astronauts to explore our Solar System as well as securing employment and technological know-how for Europe.”