ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion on the return to the Moon • The Register

Interview NASA has set late August as the launch window for its much-delayed Artemis I rocket. Already perched atop the booster is the first ready-to-fly European Service Module (ESM). Five more are in preparation.

The industrial director of Airbus, Siân Cleaver, who The register met at the Goodwood Festival of Speed’s Future Lab, is tasked with managing the assembly of the spacecraft, which will provide propulsion, power, water, oxygen and nitrogen to the Orion capsule.

Appearing to the world as an evolution of the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) International Space Station (ISS) ATV freighter, the ESM is unpressurized and approximately 4 meters long, including Orbital Maneuvering System Engine (OMSE), which protrudes from the base.

The OMSE will also look a bit familiar: “We took those straight from the old space shuttles,” Cleaver told us, which gives a nice symmetry considering the mission.

The Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System has the legacy of the Apollo Service Module and although those used by the EMS will not return to Earth, the technology has proven itself.

Unfortunately, old space shuttle bits are a limited commodity. “We’ll fly them up to ESM-6,” Cleaver said, “beyond that, we’re starting to think about using a new engine developed based on that.”

Currently, Airbus is contracted to build six ESMs. The first awaits this first launch, without a crew. The second is already in Florida, awaiting integration with the next Artemis rocket and the third, which may well welcome the first astronauts to set foot on the Moon since the days of Apollo, is gathering in Bremen, Germany .

The first batch of ESM evolved as the work progressed. Lessons learned from the ESM-1 filter into the ESM-2 and so on (and no doubt whatever is learned from that first critical test flight will also be mixed in the pot.) “There’s there were a lot of changes between the ESM-2 and the ESM-3,” Cleaver said. “…ESM-3 was a slightly different size than ESM-1 and 2 because they were thinking of pushing a gateway module with it…”

Plans by NASA and its international partners to launch modules for the Gateway, a space station intended for near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, have been somewhat fluid over the years. A plan called for the launch of the European Supply, Infrastructure and Telecommunications System (ESPRIT) and Housing and Logistics Outpost (HALO) on Artemis 3, but has since been scrapped in favor of commercial launches separated.

Things should calm down somewhat after ESM-3, although project management of such a spacecraft continues to be a challenge. “I have a spreadsheet,” Cleaver said, “that has all the different equipment and all the different subcontractors, and I track all the delivery dates that way.”

“So it’s pretty basic in that sense,” she laughed.

One of the challenges is the international aspect of the business. “We work all over Europe,” she said, “and we also work with American suppliers, who do things very slightly differently than what we are used to doing in Europe in terms of documentation. and process.

“So it’s really about making sure everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s working the same way, and everyone’s meeting everyone’s deadlines.”

Cleaver is looking forward to the next batch of ESMs, which will move further to a mass production line compared to ESMs 1-3. Tendering is underway for ESMs 7-9 and the intention is that things get cheaper and faster as batches of starships are ordered.

But there remain those crucial first flights, the first unmanned and the second (hopefully) with. “We had to change everything in the ESM,” Cleaver said of the ATV comparison, “to make it completely crew safe.”

“With ESM-1, it’s a test: ‘Let’s try this, let’s try that.’ With ESM-2 you can’t do that – people’s lives are at stake here.”

Therefore, Cleaver isn’t too concerned about the ongoing delays with Artemis 1. “We can’t take any chances,” she said. “I think we’d rather be delayed than have catastrophic failures and errors that can result in the loss of the mission. That’s just not an option for us.”

“We have to make sure it’s right, and it’s right the first time, which is why it pays to be careful when talking about launch dates.”

And as for when can breathing resume on the ground after Artemis 1? “I think for the guys on the European Service Module team,” Cleaver laughed, “it will be when the Orion module separates from the ESM right at the end of the mission.”

Or maybe a bit later, once all sensor data from the ESM-1 has been confirmed as returned. After all, unlike the space shuttle from which its big engine is derived, the European service module certainly won’t make a runway landing on Earth. ®

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