Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Collin Anderson/Staff Reporter

On Friday, November 16, NASA formally welcomed Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) to Kennedy Space Center. The ESM provides electricity, water, oxygen, and nitrogen to Orion. It will also keep the spacecraft at the right temperature and on course. The ESM marks a milestone at the European Space Agency (ESA). According to EarthSky, “it is the first time a European-built system will serve as a critical power element to power an American spacecraft.”

In an event in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Kennedy Space Center’s associate director Kelvin Manning welcomed Bill Hill, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, the ESA’s Philippe Deloo, European Service Module Project Manager, Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion Program Manager, Sue Motil, NASA’s ESM Integration Manager, and Jan Wörner, the ESA Director General. Wörner was amazed by how NASA allowed ESA to develop a mission-critical component when, just 10 years ago, then-administrator Michael Griffin said, “We will take you onboard, but never on the critical path.” Wörner was also “very happy” with the delivery of the ESM. Motil provided information on the Propulsion Qualification Module (PQM) and how it was developed to validate the performance of the overall propulsion system on the ESM. She also detailed how a recent test enabled the ESM to be shipped from Bremen, Germany to Kennedy Space Center and how they will continue to conduct tests between now and spring of 2019.

In the coming days, the ESM and crew module adapter (CMA) will be mated using exactly 192 bolts. Once complete, the set will be moved into a clean room for welding. To verify the welds, the system will be flushed with helium to check for leaks. Around May 2019, the Orion capsule will be attached to the opposing end of the CMA and shipped to Plum Brook Station for 72 days of testing in the Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber. The Orion capsule and ESM will be sent back to Kennedy Space Center where its next stop is lunar orbit in June of 2020. The unmanned EM-1 mission will be the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and second flight of the Orion capsule.

In a post conference interview, Philippe Deloo, Mark Kirasich, and Bill Hill answered some questions pertaining to the ESM and Orion capsule. When asked what the main difference would be between ESM-1 and ESM-2, Deloo responded by saying that they have 200 kilograms to lose between the two iterations. Kirasich responded to a question of what will happen to the ESM when it is time for the capsule to return to Earth. He said that the ESM will deorbit and burn up upon reentry. Bill Hill provided insight on capsule reusability and design iterations. Hill stated that capsule reusability depends on the exposure to salt air and ingestion of salt water on landing. On the topic of the differences between the EM-1 and EM-2 capsules, Hill said that the EM-2 Orion capsule will have the displays and proper life support systems in order to accommodate crew. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was originally supposed to attend the event, but, due to inclement weather, could not leave Washington D.C. He did, however, answer questions from the press in a phone conference. The Avion Newspaper asked Mr. Bridenstine how it felt to be the one to usher the US and mankind back to deep space. He described the feeling as extraordinary. “We truly stand on the shoulders of giants,” Mr. Bridentstine stated. “It is monumental to return to the Moon.” Mr. Bridenstine also stressed how trusting other nations to build mission-critical components of human spaceflight is a huge positive development. Almost 20 years to the day of the first segment of the International Space Station launching from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, Mr. Bridentstine commended the ability to further human exploration when multiple nations with different talents unite.

Media personnel were invited on a tour of the booster fabrication facility where segments of SLS’s solid rocket boosters reside ready for EM-1 and EM-2. The media was also welcomed to Launch Complex 39B where upgrades to the flame deflector have been completed in preparation for the launch of SLS.

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