Airbus lands contract with European Space Agency ahead of Moon missions

Airbus’ ESM will provide propulsion, power, air and water for the astronauts during trips to the Moon
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Airbus, European space agency, NASA, European service module

Airbus has won a €250 million contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the third European Service Module (ESM) for Orion, the American crewed spacecraft.

The third European Service Module (Artemis III Mission) will be used to fly astronauts to the Moon in 2024.

The first non-crewed Orion test flight with a European Service Module (Artemis I) will fly in 2021. Artemis II will see astronauts fly around the Moon and back to Earth.

The ESM will provide propulsion, power, air and water for the astronauts, as well as thermal control of NASA’s new spacecraft.

Andreas Hammer, head of space exploration at Airbus, said: “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.”

More than 20,000 parts and components are used in each ESM, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support supplies for the astronauts, as well as approximately 12 kilometres of cables.

The first service module was delivered to NASA in November 2018 and has already been mated with the Crew Module.

The fully integrated spacecraft already finished the thermal-vacuum testing at NASA’s facility in Ohio, USA, and returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, while the second service module is now being integrated and tested by Airbus in Bremen, with delivery set for the first half of 2021.

The ESM is cylindrical in shape and about four metres in diameter and height. It has four solar arrays 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. The ESM weighs a total of just over 13 tonnes.

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

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

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