MOSCOW, January 17 (RIA Novosti) - The European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday officially joined NASA’s project to build Orion, a spacecraft to carry astronauts into deep space, NASA said on its website.
It is the first time NASA is reaching out to a foreign space agency for help in building a spacecraft to launch astronauts beyond the low-earth orbit. Under the deal, Europe will supply the Orion service module, based on ESA’s ATV space freighter.
“This latest chapter builds on NASA’s excellent relationship with ESA as a partner in the International Space Station, and helps us move forward in our plans to send humans farther into space than we’ve ever been before,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations.
He said the agreement was preceded by an overall study of whether the European service module can be integrated with the US-build spacecraft.
“This is not a simple system. ESA’s contribution is going to be critical to the success of Orion’s 2017 mission,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager.
ESA director of human spaceflight and operations, Thomas Reiter, said during a NASA briefing that the European agency’s overall costs are estimated to be within the range of $600 million.
"This is a remarkable moment for ESA. We are opening a new page in trans-Atlantic cooperation for ESA, being involved in the building of a space transportation system [that] will give a perspective for humans to go beyond low-Earth orbit,” he said.
According to NASA, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will have three major components: the crew capsule to carry four astronauts into space; the launch abort system to pull the crew module to safety in the event of a life-threatening problem during launch; and the service module to house systems that would store power and provide thermal control, water and air for the astronauts. It will be located directly below the crew capsule and remain connected to the crew module until just before the capsule returns to Earth.
Orion is designed to be launched by a NASA heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System, which is currently being developed.
The spacecraft will first fly atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2014. It is to reach an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any spacecraft has gone in 40 years. For this purpose, it will be equipped with a test service module built by Lockheed Martin.
The unmanned Exploration Mission-1 test flight with both the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System is planned in 2017. The manned Exploration Mission-2 is tentatively scheduled for 2021.