It’s official: when astronauts land on the Moon in 2024 they will get there with help from the European Service Module. The European Space Agency signed a contract with Airbus to build the third European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will ferry the next astronauts to land on the Moon.
NASA’s Artemis programme is returning humans to the Moon with ESA’s European Service Module supplying everything needed to keep the astronauts alive on their trip in the crew module – water, air, propulsion, electricity, a comfortable temperature as well as acting as the chassis of the spacecraft.
The third Artemis mission will fly astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite in 2024 – the first to land on the Moon since Apollo 17 following a hiatus of more than 50 years.
ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said: “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.”
Over 20 000 parts and components are used in each European Service Module, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life-support elements for the astronauts, as well as approximately 12 kilometres of cables.
“Our know-how and expertise will enable us to continue to facilitate future Moon missions through international partnerships,” says Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus. “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. This contract is an endorsement of the joint approach combining the best of European and American space technologies.”
Development and construction drew on experience building the Automated Transfer Vehicles that flew to the International Space Station with regular deliveries of test equipment, spare parts, food, air, water and fuel.
Orion is the size of a small house with the European Service Module taking up the first floor at four meters in diameter and height. It has four solar wings that extend 19 m across to generate enough energy to power two households. It carries 8.6 tonnes of fuel to power Orion’s main engine and 32 smaller thrusters that will keep it on course to the Moon and power the return home to Earth.
The first European Service Module is being handed over to NASA at their Kennedy Space Center for an uncrewed launch next year, and the second is in production at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany.