Deep space exploration is slowly becoming the primary focus of major space agencies around the globe, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft is poised to become the United States’ gateway to the Moon and beyond.
Albeit a project of NASA’s, the European Space Agency (ESA) is contributing to the Orion project for the greater good of humankind; and it’s a particularly significant contribution at that.
Image Credit: NASA via ESA
In an official statement issued by the ESA this week, we learn that the agency’s European Service Module (ESM) is now fully-assembled in Bremen, Germany and being prepared for shipment to NASA in the United States.
The ESM will be transported by way of an Antonov An-124 cargo plane Monday morning, and should arrive at its destination, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the following day.
“This is a proud moment for Europe. For the first time, NASA will use a European-built system as a critical element to power an American spacecraft, extending the international cooperation of the International Space Station into deep space,” the ESA said.
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The ESM is fundamentally an all-in-one life support system for the Orion spacecraft. It provides propulsion and electricity to the spacecraft, in addition to necessities for the astronauts onboard, like air, nitrogen, and water. The ESM will also manage internal and external spacecraft temperatures to keep astronauts comfortable during their trip.
When NASA receives the ESM, the American space agency will begin integrating it into the Orion spacecraft so that it can be used for its first mission: a crewless demo flight around the Moon to validate its capabilities for crewed flights in the future. This demo flight is planned for some time in 2020, but an exact date hasn’t been publicized as of this writing.
As you might come to expect, NASA will need another ESM for crewed flights in the future. Fortunately, the ESA has started assembling a second ESM to meet those needs when the time comes.
With a little luck, perhaps NASA’s Orion spacecraft will prove successful and push astronauts further into space than any other spacecraft before it.