Orion’s European Service Module arrives at NASA’s Glenn Research Center
The European-built Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Plum Brook Station testing facility in Sandusky, Ohio, on Nov. 10, 2015, where it will begin a long battery of tests in Plum Brook’s giant Space Power Facility. The testing is in preparation for Orion’s first uncrewed test flight atop the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift booster. That mission, scheduled for 2018, will carry Orion on a trip around the Moon.
The newly-arrived European Service Module (ESM) is a structural test article. It will prove the module design’s readiness for flight by enduring the simulated space flight stresses generated in the rigorous testing facilities at Plum Brook, a sister facility to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
The module has been built through an agreement between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), utilizing the prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space. The ESM will provide propulsion, maneuvering thruster systems, as well as water, oxygen, and power and thermal control to the Lockheed Martin-built Orion Crew Module.
“ESA and their prime contractor, Airbus, are providing an essential part of Orion that will help us conduct our next mission in the lunar proving ground,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion Program manager. “The service module is Orion’s powerhouse, and our work with the Europeans builds on an already strong relationship as we explore farther into the Solar System than a spacecraft built for humans has ever traveled.”
The ESM’s design is based on Airbus’ proven experience with their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a supply craft that completed five successful re-supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2008 to 2014.
“We were thrilled to see the European test article arrive in Cleveland,” said Jim Free, Glenn Research Center director, “and we’re looking forward to putting it through the paces at Plum Brook Station. This test campaign is an important step in ensuring Orion’s success as it moves toward its first mission.”
The new ESM left from Airbus’ subcontractor Thales Alenia Space, in Italy, and arrived yesterday at NASA Glenn via the adjacent Cleveland-Hopkins Airport. It then made the 50-mile trip west aboard a tractor-truck trailer, and it was protected by a special housing to keep the ESM at a constant temperature. The slow and meandering 4-hour route through rural backroads took the ESM past curious motorists and dozens of surprised onlookers as it made its way to Plum Brook Station, arriving at its Space Power Facility by mid afternoon.
Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility has undergone a $130 million renovation in preparation for testing all components of the Orion spacecraft. The Service Module Adapter, which will connect the ESM to the Crew Module, is already being tested at Plum Brook. It will soon be attached atop the ESM.
When the Crew Module test article arrives in the coming months, the entire stacked spacecraft will be tested in the facility’s 122-foot (37-meter) tall Vacuum Chamber, the largest vacuum chamber in the world. It will also be subjected to the giant Mechanical Vibration Facility, to simulate the extreme vibration stresses of launch, as well as the Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility, to test the spacecraft in the deafening sound pressures it will experience during launch atop the SLS.
The ESM will also perform solar array deployment tests at Plum Brook, and will use pyrotechnics to simulate the shock the ESM will experience when it separates from the SLS rocket.
The Orion spacecraft is being developed to send astronauts on deep space missions such as asteroid rendezvous and missions in lunar orbit. Its development is an essential component in NASA’s plans for future missions to Mars.
Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”