The European Space Agency (ESA) has reportedly awarded some €650 million worth of contract to Airbus Defense and Space for the creation of three additional European Service Modules for Orion which is the US next-gen crew spacecraft.
The move is further the ambition of sending humans back to the Moon as soon as possible. This is is a joint effort with NASA whereby the ESA is tasked with making the service module for the agency’s Orion spacecraft. The service module acts as the propulsion for the spacecraft as well as providing a range of other critical functions.
This is also part of Europe’s contribution to the Artemis program and its lunar Gateway space station which could help in interplanetary travel in the near future. Europe had also secured its three seats aboard Orion flight even though no one know which of the mission will feature European astronauts.
The €650 million contract will allow Airbus to make six Orion service modules and upon the completion of the 6th, the service module’s propulsion system will need to be revised.
The current Orion service module uses Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines which is designed by Aerojet back in the 1970s and was onboard every space shuttle mission since STS-1 to STS-135.
According to ESA, there are currently only six such flight-worthy engines in existence. Once this supply is exhausted, a new propulsion system will need to be found. NASA is currently exploring options.
The use of space shuttle legacy hardware is a theme of NASA’s Artemis program. The agency’s SLS rocket, which will carry the Orion spacecraft to orbit, for instance, utilizes four of the space shuttle’s RS-25 main engines, and two upgraded space shuttle solid rocket boosters.
Even though the US government doesn’t seem to be concerned about its space program yet under the Biden Administration, there have been reports about possible delays tot the 2024 Lunar ambition as other contracts in the US are being held while NASA take its time to examine the pitch of its contractors.