Orion’s service module has evolved out of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that serviced the International Space Station five times between Since 2008 and 2015.
ATV was conceived in 1987 and in 1994, ESA and Russia discussed the possibility of using the vehicle for a new station. The decision to build it was taken in October 1995 and development began the following year.
ATV became ESA’s largest spacecraft and set records for most equipment delivered to the International Space Station. The spacecraft’s role was to supply water, air, equipment and fuel as well as push the Station to raise its orbit or avoid space debris. At the end of a mission, ATV was filled with waste to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.
The spacecraft formed part of the Station’s supply fleet, alongside Russia’s Progress and Soyuz, Japan’s HII Transfer Vehicle and America’s Dragon and Cygnus commercial ferries.
As one of the most versatile spacecraft to visit the Space Station, the tried and proven technology behind ATV was chosen in 2013 to power NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
The two service modules resemble each other in terms of size, solar array layout, engine placement and hull, with the addition of the crew capsule and large main engine the markedly visible differences. Many elements have been improved or replaced with enhanced models.
The Automated Transfer Vehicle was Europe’s first spacecraft for human spaceflight; its evolution is now set to power astronauts further than human beings have ever travelled before.