International Partnership With Europe Extended For Space Station, Orion

Artist’s concept of an Orion spacecraft and its European-built service module near the moon. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

December 10, 2016 – NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) will continue their international cooperation in space, extending humanity’s presence farther into the solar system than ever before while sustaining critical work aboard the world-class laboratory, the International Space Station.

International Space Station partner agencies are extending their participation in the program through at least 2024. Their extension also enables ESA to fulfill a portion of its share of operational costs and additional supporting services for the space station by providing a second service module for Orion, the powerhouse that will propel and fuel the spacecraft when astronauts venture beyond the moon as early as 2021.

“We are pleased ESA will extend its critical partnership with the International Space Station as well as support our first crewed mission with Orion in deep space,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Continued collaboration in space is vital for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit including the Journey to Mars.”

ESA’s many contributions throughout the lifetime of the space station, including astronauts, cargo vehicles, modules and research, have been invaluable contributions to ensure the success of humanity’s laboratory in space. The current level of research of both NASA and the international partners on the space station is at an all-time high. Along with the growing success of commercial space endeavors and ongoing research done for the benefits of people living on our home planet, the station remains poised to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars.

Orion is NASA’s spacecraft that will carry the crew to space, keep them safe during their mission and provide emergency abort capability during ascent and safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

The service module for Orion provides power, propulsion, thermal control, water and air for astronauts. It is derived from technology from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, which flew five cargo resupply missions to the space station. During the first crewed mission of Orion, which will launch atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, astronauts will travel tens of thousands of miles in a figure-eight-like loop around the moon before returning home. This path or trajectory is called a multi-translunar injection with a free return trajectory, and will be one in a series of NASA missions in the proving ground near the moon. The mission will mark a significant step forward on the journey to Mars.

This comes as work continues on the service module being provided by ESA and its contractor Airbus Defence & Space for Orion’s uncrewed 2018 mission atop the SLS, the first integrated mission of the spacecraft and rocket. Engineers are currently installing critical systems into the module at Airbus’ facility in Bremen, Germany. This week NASA is shipping to Europe an Orbital Maneuvering System engine that will help propel Orion in space. The service module is scheduled to be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado, is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.