As was expected, NASA and ESA managers announced the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) will live on as the bulk of the Orion Service Module. With an emphasis on international cooperation for Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration, the ATV deal will lead to discussions on allowing an ESA astronaut to ride on Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2).
One more ATV mission is planned in 2014, per the barter agreement between ESA and NASA, created as part of the framework for the Station’s assembly and utilization.
With the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) bowing out via the completion of the ISS assembly, NASA managers have refocused their efforts on Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration, with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion as the two main elements currently under development to realize that goal.
However, following 2014’s Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) test mission for Orion – to be launched on a Delta IV-Heavy – only two SLS/Orion missions are currently all-but baselined in what remains an undefined exploration roadmap, namely Exploration Mission -1 and -2 (EM-1, EM-2).
EM-1 will debut the 70mT Block 1 SLS on a 6-10 day mission to lap the Moon in December, 2017. EM-2 is currently on the books for Orion’s second trip to the Moon, this time with a crew of up to four astronauts.
EM-2’s Design Reference Mission (DRM) classification is CLO (Crewed Lunar Orbit), given the astronauts will spend three to four days orbiting our closest neighbor.
The joint NASA/ESA announcement on Wednesday relates to a deal that will see the ATV’s propulsion hardware making up a large part of Orion’s Service Module for the EM-1 and EM-2 missions.
The ATV-derived service module – sporting a NASA supplied Orbital Manuevering System Engine (OME) – will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.
The ATV solar arrays will also feature, giving the Orion/SM configuration the X-wing appearance – a change from the circular arrays that were previously employed by the NASA spacecraft.
A large amount of work has been carried out by NASA, ESA, Lockheed Martin – the contractor for Orion – and related companies on the interfaces between the NASA vehicle and the ATV hardware. This work is now heading to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) phase on a “tight schedule”.
“ATV has proven itself on three flawless missions to the Space Station and this agreement is further confirmation that Europe is building advanced, dependable spacecraft,” said Nico Dettmann, Head of ATV’s production programme.
“It is a testament to the engineering progress made to date that we are ready to begin integrating designs of an ESA-built service module with Orion,” added Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development.
However, moving past the marriage of hardware, the over-riding tone of Tuesday’s announcement was the continuing international cooperation between NASA and ESA – based on their successful association with the International Space Station program.
Following on from the two-day ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in Naples, Italy in November of last year – which set the groundwork for working a deal with NASA for their role with Orion and included a surprise injection of cash from the United Kingdom – the Europeans now have a vested interest in SLS’ opening missions.
As such, the potential for the first crewed mission – EM-2 – to include an ESA astronaut will be discussed at a later stage.
“The cooperation opens new perspectives for (taking) humans beyond Earth orbit, and certainly this (an ESA astronaut on EM-2) is one of the areas that I will start discussing with Bill (Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier) to what possibilities are there,” noted Thomas Reiter, ESA director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“NASA’s decision to cooperate with ESA on their exploration programme with ESA delivering a critical element for the mission is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA’s capabilities, for ESA it is an important contribution to human exploration.”
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No deal has been made on using the ATV hardware past EM-2, although – as noted by Mr Gersteinmaier – NASA lacks an actual exploration roadmap at this time.
However, despite claiming work is continuing on selecting the roadmap for NASA – through to the ultimate goal of Mars – it is understood that some form of a roadmap for the 2020s will be released “soon”, with the NASA leadership currently seeking political approval for a plan that includes the highly favored Exploration Gateway/Platform.
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