What is an Orion capsule
NASA's new Orion spaceship with ESA's ESM module
The chapter of the multifunctional ATV space transporter ends with the fifth supply flight to the ISS. At the same time, a new era for manned space travel in Europe begins: NASA and ESA are jointly building the most modern spacecraft in the world called the Orion. Europe contributes the service module, which has been further developed from the ATV.
Europe plays in the top league of the ISS
Jubilation and melancholy accompany the six-month mission of the fifth and at the same time last European space transporter ATV 5 "Georges Lemaître" to supply the International Space Station ISS. Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is the largest, most modern and most powerful supply ship in the world. Flight, approach and coupling of the transporter to the space station are completely autonomous. Thanks to the specially developed hardware and software, the ATV flies as safely as if a crew were on board.
With the ATV "Europe has risen to the top league of the ISS", said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain. The technology for the fully automatic coupling of a spaceship alone was an investment in the future for European space travel, because neither the USA nor Russia have such a technology.
However, these experiences are not lost. In December 2012, ESA and NASA agreed that they would pool their know-how and build the most modern manned spacecraft. Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is said to fly with the help of the European Service Module (ESM), which is based on the design of the ATV supply vehicle. What is remarkable about this deal is that for the first time NASA allows the delivery of mission-critical parts by non-American partners.
New quality of the ESA - NASA cooperation
On November 17, 2014, ESA commissioned the space company Airbus Defense and Space to develop and build the service module for the Orion capsule at a fixed price of 390 million euros. Thomas Reiter, ESA Director for Manned Spaceflight and Operations, and Bart Reijnen, Head of Orbital Systems and Space Exploration at the Airbus site in Bremen, signed the contract in Berlin.
"With the delivery of the ESM, the ESA is offsetting its share of the operating costs for the ISS for the years 2018 to 2020," explained Reiter. The funds required for this were approved at the ESA Ministerial Conference on December 2, 2014 in Luxembourg.
It was agreed with the USA that the costs for participation in the ISS program would be offset through barter deals, i.e. through the exchange of services. Europe does not transfer a single euro to the USA, but rather spends the money at home. This secures jobs and strengthens the technology sector.
Orion spaceship with European service module
The NASA spacecraft Orion-MPCV, reminiscent of the Apollo era, consists of four parts: the Orion crew capsule with the launch abort system attached and the ESM service module, which is connected to the capsule via the so-called crew module adapter. It is primarily intended for missions to targets beyond near-earth orbit. In the capsule, which is much larger than that of Apollo, up to four astronauts can fly. Orion can even host up to six astronauts on a mission in near-earth orbit.
The service module located below the Orion capsule is responsible for the drive, energy supply, thermal control and other central elements of the life support system. From here, electricity, drinking water and breathing air are provided for the astronauts in the habitable module. The ESM is therefore essentially responsible for the survival of the crew. Orion would not be operational without the ESM.
Orion's first unmanned test flight, which NASA calls Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT 1), took place on December 5, 2014 without an ESM. The ESM, built by Airbus in Bremen, is only included in the second unmanned Orion test flight at the end of the decade. During this exploration mission 1 (EM 1) lasting a maximum of ten days, Orion is to fly to the so-called lunar retrograde orbit, a point near the moon at which the gravitational pulls of the moon and earth are virtually canceled. It flies close to the moon before returning to earth later. Shortly before entering the earth's atmosphere, the Orion capsule separates from the ESM in order to water. The ESM burns up in the earth's atmosphere.
First flight to the moon with a European?
Since the ESM can only be used once, NASA needs additional modules to continue the Orion program. In Berlin, the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Kirk Shireman, said that NASA was “very interested in ordering the other service modules in Europe. But that assumes that Congress continues to support the Orion program. "
Should NASA take up the option for a second ESM, then the manned Exploration Mission 2 (EM 2) should lead either to an asteroid or to the moon in 2021/22. "My wish," said Thomas Reiter, would be "a European astronaut" among the four-man Orion crew. Perhaps the chance for Alexander Gerst to take another selfie from space.
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