The Making of the European Service Modules

Adapted from the ESA Science & Exploration page.

In 2013 NASA and ESA announced that Europe would supply the service modules for humankind’s next astronaut Moon missions. From design to review, building and testing, many people, companies and hours were put into making the next generation hardware that will keep astronauts alive and well on their voyage to the Moon.
The Making of the European Service Modules
— Packed for the Moon

ESA’s team for the European Service Module is based at the Agency’s technical heart ESTEC in The Netherlands. From here around 60 people oversaw the design and reviewed it together with NASA and industrial partners to ensure everything would meet specifications.

We had a lot of experience and know-how working on the Automated Transfer Vehicles that shipped fuel and cargo to the International Space Station, but the European Service Modules are completely new, and much more complex,” says ESA’s Orion engineering team leader Antonio Preden. “Getting the design ready, checked and reviewed and taking into account how everything would be built up was an interesting time.

Design and review

The Making of the European Service Modules
— Made in Europe

Over 20 companies around Europe contributed to building the spacecraft module, with most of the hardware sent to Bremen, Germany, to be assembled by prime contractor Airbus.

In many ways, the design and review process was more intense than the actual building process,” adds ESA’s Assembly Integration and Verification Engineer Dominique Siruguet. “Once we had our solid plan and all partners and industry agreed on the design and implementation process, the next step was to put it all together.

The Making of the European Service Modules
— Third European Service Module structure

The structure itself, the backbone of Orion, starts at Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. Once they deliver the bare structure to the Airbus integration hall, the tireless work begins installing 20 000 parts, 11 km of cables, 33 engines, and 11 tanks for fuel, water and air.

Many parts for the European Service Module are made-to-measure for Orion and as marvels of engineering, they can take many months to prepare. These so-called long-lead items are ordered years in advance, sometimes before the contracts or even the design reviews have been signed off.

Integration and shipment

The Making of the European Service Modules
— European Service Module 2 assembly

In Bremen, parts started streaming in from 10 countries in Europe as well as USA, and technicians had the daunting but satisfying task of putting them all together.

Building Europe’s first human-rated hardware for a crew vehicle is like a huge puzzle – with the added complication of ensuring timely delivery,” says ESA’s project coordination manager for the European Service Modules Philippe Berthe. “International cooperation and commitments are key to the success, with each company providing their expertise and components to get everything delivered on time.

The Making of the European Service Modules
— Orion integration on top of Moon launcher

Working around the clock over the last five years, technicians built and verified the European Service Module test article as well as separate flight models – often simultaneously. The first complete European Service Module was shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 2018 and is now atop the rocket that will launch it around the Moon for Artemis I.

The second European Service Module was delivered last year, and steady progress is being made on the third module.

International collaboration

The Making of the European Service Modules
— We are going

The cooperation with NASA on Orion was a unique challenge says Max Bottacini, ESA’s chief engineer for the European Service Module.

Each system has interfaces carefully designed and verified by both space agencies and their prime contractors.

“In spite of some difficulties the result is now tangible: a fully qualified and delivered first European Service Module ready for Orion’s first mission around the Moon this year. This is the result of good technical work and high spirit of cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Many thanks to the technical teams of the agencies and industries for this achievement!

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