An artist’s impression of the Orion spacecraft with ESA’s service module.
The module sits directly below Orion’s crew capsule and provides propulsion, power, thermal control, and water and air for four astronauts. A number of elements are required only during launch and are discarded shortly before entering space. The Spacecraft Adapter attaches Orion to its launch vehicle. The Spacecraft Adapter Jettisonable Fairings offer aerodynamic protection during launch. When the vehicle is high enough above Earth, the fairings are jettisoned to fall into the ocean.
As Orion ferries people to space and back, safety is paramount. If anything were to go wrong during launch, an abort will propel the crew capsule up and away from the danger, returning it to the ground by parachute. The Launch Abort System forms the nose of the complete launcher and has rockets of its own that fire in an emergency. It, too, is discarded at altitude.
Orion is NASA’s next spacecraft to send humans into space. It is designed to send astronauts farther into space than ever before, beyond the Moon to asteroids and even Mars.
ESA has designed and is overseeing the development of Orion’s service module, the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity and propulsion. Much like a train engine pulls passenger carriages and supplies power, the European Service Module will take the Orion capsule to its destination and back.
The Orion spacecraft is built by NASA with ESA providing the service module. The arrangement stems from the international partnership for the International Space Station. NASA’s decision to cooperate with ESA on a critical element for the mission is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA’s capabilities.
More than 20 companies around Europe are now building the European Service Module as NASA works on Orion and the Space Launch System.