The second European Service Module’s (ESM) flight model is well into the integration test phase as Airbus readies it for the initial Orion mission with astronauts – which will fly around the Moon and return to Earth.

Performed at Airbus Defence and Space’s facility in Bremen, Germany, the ESM-2’s validations already completed include gimbal testing of the module’s main engine (which swivels from side to side for manoeuvring and directional control during spaceflight). This main engine is a refurbished engine from Space Shuttle Atlantis to power humans back to the Moon.

The ESM is Europe’s contribution to the U.S.-developed Orion spacecraft for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), providing propulsion, power, water, oxygen, and nitrogen – as well as keeping it at the right temperature and on course during flight. Orion will open a new era in space exploration, taking astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

Readying Orion’s “powerhouse”

“The development and preparation of human-rated spacecraft and modules have a long history at Bremen, starting with the Spacelab laboratory that was carried aboard the Space Shuttle,” said Mark Kelly, Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) Manager for ESM-2. “This activity continued through Airbus’ support of such programmes as the Columbus module, which is docked to the International Space Station; along with the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo resupply spacecraft…and now Orion.”

The ESM marks the first time NASA will use a European-built system as a critical element in powering and propelling an American spacecraft, recognising Airbus’ 40 years of expertise. 

“The development and preparation of human-rated spacecraft and modules have a long history at Bremen…”

Mark Kelly, the ESM-2 Assembly, Integration and Testing Manager

More than 20,000 parts and components are used in each European Service Module, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support supplies for the astronauts, as well as approximately 12 kilometres of cables.

ESM-2 is one of three flight models currently in different phases of production, integration, testing or mission preparation. The first – designated ESM-1 – is undergoing final preparations in the U.S. before its launch on Orion’s first, un-crewed, test mission at the end of 2021; while ESM-3 has just begun its integration phase in Europe.  

More European Service Modules on the way

“Integration is a long process,” added AIT Floor Manager Paolo Artusio. “We have learned many lessons from ESM-1, which we’ve implemented on a rolling basis for the second flight model. And we’re also doing the same thing in transitioning from ESM-2 to ESM-3.”

In the longer term it is planned to dock the Orion with the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway – a moon orbiting platform that will enable a sustainable space exploration architecture extending humanity’s presence in space.