Airbus considers the production of service modules for the Orion spacecraft to be serial

Airbus considers the production of service modules for the Orion spacecraft to be serial

Production of service modules for Orion spacecraft considered by Airbus to be serious

Completion of the European Service Module ESM-4- for the Orion spacecraft, February 9, 2023 at the Airbus factory in Bremen, northern Germany.

Bremen (Germany) – A pair of engineers in antistatic suits and rubber gloves are hunched over a computer in the giant hall of the Bremen Airbus factory, discussing a schematic. Just a few meters away, their colleague, who is also dressed in a special suit, is slowly climbing the scaffolding surrounding the pride of European space technology – the European Service Module (ESM). Together with the crew module, it forms the Orion spacecraft, with which people return to the moon after decades. The landing on the moon is expected to be in 2025 at the earliest. Airbus in Bremen is now working on three modules at the same time, thus considering production as serial.

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Production of service modules for spacecraft Orion considers Airbus to be serial

Production service ch modules for the Orion spacecraft Airbus considers serial

Manufacturing service modules for the Orion spacecraft is considered serious by Airbus

Manufacturing of service modules for the Orion spacecraft is considered serious by Airbus

“Serial production in the space program never means the same as in the automotive industry, we always make partial changes and improvements compared to previous devices. But I would definitely call the current state of ESM production industrial,” said Ralf Zimmermann, who is in charge of lunar programs at Airbus and ESM. Airbus' head of space exploration, Marc Steckling, also spoke about serial production.

“We have already delivered the first two ESM modules, ESM-2 is now being attached to Orion at the Kennedy Space Center in the US. The basic design of ESM-4 arrived last summer and ESM-5 before Christmas, so we are now entering the serial production phase, ” said Steckling.

In the special halls of Airbus, technicians are now working on three modules at the same time. ESM-3 is 80 percent complete, the fourth module is 30 percent complete, and the fifth is at the beginning of assembly. “We are on track to meet NASA's requirement to deliver one ESM module per year,” Steckling added. Airbus will later produce a sixth module and is now preparing an offer for three more ESM modules.

The ESM is a key component of Orion, providing propulsion systems, electrical power and supplies to the spacecraft. For the European Space Agency (ESA), the delivery of the ESM means significant involvement in the program to return humans to the Moon, as the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) left the provision of such a critical part of the vessel to European partners for the first time ever.

So far, only the first ESM-1 module has looked into space, which flew around the Moon as part of the Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis I test mission. During its pilgrimage, during which it reached a speed of up to 40,000 kilometers per hour, the ship covered over two million kilometers.

“During the first flight, we tested all the equipment,” said Zimmermann, who said the maiden flight for the European module was extremely successful. David Parker, who is in charge of robotic and manned space exploration at ESA, also spoke about the success. “The ESM worked better than we expected,” he said. According to Airbus, the solar panels delivered 15 percent more energy during the flight than calculations expected. The engines were also more economical, ultimately consuming 20 percent less fuel than expected.

Orion project manager at ESA Philippe Deloo noted that some errors were also noted. “There were several anomalies, but none were critical. One of them I would call annoying because we still don't know what caused it. It's related to the electrical wiring,” said Deloo. The electric relay was activated by itself, but it was possible to turn it off again with a command. “We still have to find out why it happened,” he said. This error can also affect the ESM-2 and ESM-3 modules, which have identical electronic equipment to the first module. During these Artemis missions, however, there will already be a crew on board that can react to this error without intervention from Earth.

Before the module goes into space, a demanding assembly of equipment awaits it. “The module consists of more than 20,000 parts and houses 12 kilometers of cables,” said Lars Bauer, who is the chief systems engineer for the ESM project at Airbus. “Before, it took 22 months to assemble one module, now we are at 16 months,” he added.