To the moon and be­yond: Airbus de­liv­ers pow­er­house for NASA’s Orion space­craft

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA) on Fri­day de­liv­ered the “pow­er­house” for NASA’s new Orion Space­ship that will take as­tro­nauts to the moon and be­yond in com­ing years, hit­ting a key mile­stone that should lead to hun­dreds of mil­lions of eu­ros in fu­ture or­ders.

Engi­neers at the Airbus plant in Bre­men, Ger­many on Thurs­day care­fully packed the space­craft into a spe­cial con­tainer that will fly aboard a huge Antonov cargo plane to NASA’s Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Florida, a first step on its way to deep space.

In Florida, the mod­ule will be joined with the Orion crew mod­ule built by Lock­heed Mar­tin (LMT.N), fol­lowed by over a year of in­ten­sive test­ing be­fore the first three-week mis­sion or­bit­ing the moon is launched in 2020, al­beit with­out peo­ple.

Fu­ture pro­duc­tion of Orion and the Euro­pean mod­ule could re­sult in bil­lions of dol­lars of new or­ders for the com­pa­nies in­volved in com­ing years, said Bill Ger­sten­maier, as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor for hu­man ex­plo­ration and op­er­a­tions for NASA.

Into deep space

“This is the sys­tem that will en­able hu­mans to move sus­tain­ably into deep space … and leave the Earth-moon sys­tem for the first time ever,” he said.

Cur­rent plans are for a first crewed mis­sion in 2022, but NASA and the Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) then plan to launch a manned mis­sion ev­ery year, mak­ing the Orion project both po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant at a time when China and other coun­tries are rac­ing to gain a foothold in space.

Airbus’s Euro­pean Ser­vice Mod­ule will pro­vide propul­sion, power, ther­mal con­trol and con­sum­ables to the Orion crew mod­ule, mark­ing the first time that NASA will use a Euro­pean-built sys­tem as a crit­i­cal el­e­ment to power an Amer­i­can space­craft.

“This is a very big step. The de­liv­ery and the flight to Amer­ica are just the be­gin­ning of a jour­ney that will ul­ti­mately take us to 60,000 miles be­yond the moon, fur­ther than any hu­man has ever flown be­fore,” Oliver Juck­en­hoe­fel, vice pres­i­dent of on-or­bit ser­vices and ex­plo­ration for Airbus, told Reuters.

Orion is part of a grow­ing push to put hu­mans back on the moon, where the un­ex­pected dis­cov­ery of wa­ter has en­er­gized sci­en­tists, with rapid tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments such as 3D print­ing paving the way for lu­nar-based in­fra­struc­ture, such as data server re­lay sta­tions, in com­ing years.

Miss the boat

“It sounds like sci­ence fic­tion, but I’m con­vinced it’s com­ing, and the only ques­tion for us in Europe is whether we want to be part of it or not,” Juck­en­hoe­fel said. “In in­dus­try, we have to be care­ful that we don’t miss the boat.”

NASA’s Ger­sten­maier said ESA was in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in a so-called “lu­nar gate­way” with an eye to land­ing hu­mans on the moon again around 2028, and pro­vid­ing a base for travel to Mars and be­yond.

Airbus won a 390 mil­lion euro ($446.12 mil­lion) con­tract to build the first ESM mod­ule in 2014, and is work­ing on a sec­ond or­der val­ued at 200 mil­lion eu­ros. Now it is ne­go­ti­at­ing with ESA for fur­ther or­ders that could add up to a bil­lion eu­ros, Juck­en­hoe­fel said.

Mike Hawes, who runs the $11 bil­lion Orion pro­gram for Lock­heed, un­der­scored the im­por­tance of the pro­gram for fu­ture ex­plo­ration of deep space.

He said Lock­heed was ne­go­ti­at­ing with NASA for up to 12 fol­low-on mis­sions that could re­sult in bil­lions of dol­lars of new or­ders, while work­ing to halve the cost of fu­ture space­craft.

NASA’s re­searcher said ESA was in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in a so-called “lu­nar gate­way” with an eye to land­ing hu­mans on the Moon again around 2028, and pro­vid­ing a base for travel to Mars and be­yond.

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