The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Airbus to construct its third European Service Module, which will be used in the 2024 mission back to the Moon.
The European Service Module acts as the “tail” of the Orion spacecraft and is there to make sure the astronauts can survive the trip to our natural satellite. The module provides water, air, propulsion, electricity, and a comfortable temperature for the humans on board.
“By entering into this agreement, we are again demonstrating that Europe is a strong and reliable partner in Artemis. The European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this, allowing scientific research, development of key technologies and international cooperation – inspiring missions that expand humankind’s presence beyond Low Earth Orbit,” ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said in a statement.
The module design is based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which is used to resupply the International Space Station, carrying to low-Earth orbit food, water, air, and test equipment. The entire craft is not much larger than an apartment. It carries 8.6 tons of fuel for Orion’s main engine and its solar panels extend as wings to 19 meters (62 feet).
The first European Service Module is currently undergoing testing at the Kennedy Space Center. This one is expected to fly next year on Artemis 1, the first mission of the program. This will be uncrewed and last 25 days, including six days in a retrograde orbit around the Moon.
The second service module is currently under construction and will fly on Artemis 2 in 2023, the first crewed mission of the program. This mission will also be the first crewed spacecraft to leave low-Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.
The third service module will be employed on Artemis 3, the mission back to lunar soil.