NASASpaceflight interviewed two speakers and subject matter experts about Orion, the European Service Module (ESM), Artemis I, and other space cooperations between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA as part of the Moon Media Day of ESA and Airbus.
In the previously released interview, NASASpaceflight talked with the ESA Director of Human and Robotics Exploration, David Parker. For this piece, NASASpaceflight talked with William “Bill” Hartwell, the Orion Program Liaison to the European Space Agency at NASA.
In his position, Hartwell works with ESA and Airbus to resolve programmatic and technical challenges related to providing ESMs to NASA. He also leads the NASA-ESA negotiations regarding future Orion Program cooperation.
Before joining the Orion Program, Hartwell was a NASA project manager for the International Space Station (ISS) Program Office. He managed complex engineering projects in cooperation with international partner space agencies.
With the recent success of the Artemis I mission, NASASpaceflight asked Hartwell about his overall impression of the mission. “The biggest thing we took away from that mission was understanding the spacecraft’s and team’s performance!”
Artemis I was the debut flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. In the demo flight, an uncrewed version of Orion, powered by the European Service Module, was flying around the Moon and later, after 25 days in space, returned for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
He detailed this teamwork between the partners: “We have this teamwork between ESA, NASA, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, and the Ariane Group. All of the industrial contractors!”
“For so many years, ESA and Airbus worked on providing the spacecraft. And for Artemis I, everyone felt part of a mission. Providing a spacecraft is one thing, but being part of the mission is the next level of ownership and accomplishment.”
He updated the status of the Orion capsule after splashdown: “The Crew Module is at the Kennedy Space Center. When it splashed down, we transported it across the United States by truck.
“It is stored in the MPPF [Multi-Payload Processing Facility]. It is where we decontaminate it. It has all the hypergolic fuel, so you must be careful when decontaminating.”
After the decontamination of the capsule, NASA wants to perform two major things with the capsule: “We have taken the data recorders out of the spacecraft, and we will soon take out the avionics, which will be used on Artemis II,” Hartwell said.
“Another important part of the inspections is the heatshield. The heatshield must be removed to undergo its entire inspection.”
Artemis II will be the human return to the sphere of influence on the Moon. The mission is planned for 2024 and would send four people around the Earth’s closest celestial neighbor before returning the crew to Earth.
This would clear the path for the Artemis III mission, which plans to put humans back on the Moon’s surface. Down the line, NASA wants to reuse more and more parts of Orion.
If the impression so far confirms that the reusability goals are on track, Hartwell said: “We have reusable elements of Orion. For example, we already have been pulling some Guidance Navigation and Control and Communication equipment out of Artemis I to be used on Artemis II.”
“The heat shield will be new every time. But we do intend to reuse the crew modules. They will not be used on the next mission but will be available again a few missions later.”
After the first review steps, NASASpaceflight was also curious if ESA and NASA had already found things that would warrant hardware changes down the line after looking at the data of the Artemis I mission. Hartwell said, “We learned nothing on this mission that tells us that we need to change the hardware.”
Furthermore, he spoke about already planned hardware changes on later ESM and Orion modules: “We are planning changes to the hardware, but these things were already in the plan for quite some time.”
“We are still investigating this power distribution unit and its open switches [during Artemis I], which would prevent some power from flowing, but this is not considered a blocker.”
The ESM for the first few flights will use Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines from previously flown orbiters. Hartwell said that flight experience gives them confidence in the units, since they had already performed on multiple missions: “These engines have flown many times. These particular units went through their paces, and they are flight-proven units.”
“Every time one is removed from the shelf and installed on an ESM, steps are performed during the refurbishment and testing. It’s a very stable part of this system.”
Once the supply of Shuttle OMS engines runs out, new Orion Main Engines will need to be manufactured. Regarding the future and how they want to make sure the quality and confidence in the new engines stay the same, he said: “A few years ago, we went through a study, in which we asked, what we should use to replace these orbiter engines with.
“That study, in the end, concluded that we should rebuild the OMS thrusters as they are while meeting current NASA specifications.”
Widening the scope of the questions, we asked if Hartwell thinks we will see European steps on the Moon as part of the Artemis program. “I hope we do. That’s why people are involved in this. It’s the excitement of having Astronauts on the lunar surface.”
“It’s very important. I see that ESA is on the path to getting there. They are not there yet. We agree that three Europeans will fly on the Orion spacecraft to the Gateway.”
Hartwell said about the steps forward from there: “The European Space Agency is bringing additional capabilities to this, which means the next conversation we will have is how these contributions can result in a European walking on the surface of the Moon.”
Previously, the ESM was transported from Bremen to the Kennedy Space Center using an Antonov cargo aircraft. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NASASpaceflight asked how this will impact future delivery of the ESM: “We have been looking at that. Airbus is responsible for getting it there, and they have been looking at options.”
“I have been involved in that a bit, and the perspective I have been involved with — if we should need to use a Galaxy C5, how would we do that? But, we would wait until ESA and Airbus request NASA. So far, they have found ways to deliver it to us using other Antonovs not registered in Russia but in Ukraine.”
Another option he presented was the Airbus Beluga craft or using water transport vehicles. The reason the air is preferred is because of the scheduling challenges.
Asked about the whole Artemis program and how it can be more sustainable than, for example, Apollo, Hartwell said: “The sustainable part is critical from our perspective. To go to Mars, we have to build experience.”
“This experience is not built in a flash. So, you have to have a sustainable program. How do you do that? You do it by partnering with international partners and with public and private companies, with entities across the board.”
“Our goal at NASA is to provide a robust national space program to achieve our objectives over the long term,” he added.
Asking about the future of the ESM, NASASpaceflight asked if NASA and ESA would ever consider using the upgraded capabilities of the Exploration Upper Stage to increase the performance of the ESM and Orion. “Currently, that is not our plan. We plan to implement the ESM and Orion in a predictable production method.”
“Artemis IV is the current plan for the last changes of the ESM; however, part of sustainability is to renovate your current architecture. At some point, you must stop and say, ‘Do we have any new capabilities, and what have we learned?'”
“You need to have a process for that to have a sustainable program,” he noted. “There are some scenarios where we could think about that.”
(Lead image: ESM-2 for Artemis II. Credit: NASA)