Airbus Group will reportedly develop and build a service module for the future American human space capsule, Orion, thus marking the first time a European firm has provided system-critical elements for a U.S. space project. The U.S. intends to use its newly developed Orion capsule to send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.
The contract is worth around $488 million. The service module will provide propulsion, power supply, thermal control and the central elements of the life support system of the American capsule. The contract was signed in Berlin, Germany, in the presence of Brigitte Zypries, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy.
This module is based on the design of and the experience gained from the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) developed and constructed by Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of ESA as a supply craft for the International Space Station.
“This follow-on contract is a mark of confidence in our expertise as well as in our ability to deliver reliable state-of-the-art space systems on time and within budget. Thanks to this programme and the continuous investments we make, we are able to maintain our technological lead,”
said Francois Auque, Head of Space Systems.
Once the system designs for the service module had been approved by the ESA in May 2014, the detailed definition phase began, parallel to the construction of the first hardware. This is set to be completed in November 2015, when ESA approves the detailed design.
“In the wake of the ATV’s outstanding five flawless missions to the ISS, this programme is yet another example of the important role that Europe plays globally in the field of human space flight.”
Planned for 2017/2018, the first Orion mission in which Europe is involved, “Exploration Mission 1,” consists of an unmanned flight to the Lagrangian points of the Moon and a return to Earth. The purpose of this mission is to demonstrate the spacecraft’s performance capabilities before its human deployment as well as to achieve qualification for NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket. Furthermore, as part of “Exploration Mission 2,” Orion is then scheduled to be launched into space not earlier than 2020 with astronauts on board.