Orion and European Service Module orbiting the Moon. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/ATG Medialab

With NASA’s announcement to bring humans back to the surface of the moon before the end of 2024, ESA is preparing to deliver a third European Service Module (ESM) for the Orion spacecraft.

An agreement between NASA and ESA gives the go-ahead to start building the ESM, which provides air, water, electricity, propulsion, temperature control and structural stability to the NASA’s Orion. Early procurements for the third ESM have been initiated and the full contract is currently under negotiation.

“The team welcomed the agreement with elation,” said ESA’s Philippe Deloo of the European Service Module. “We are already proud to be developing the first spacecraft to return humans to the Moon, but the spacecraft that will see humans land on the Moon is on another level.”

A contract for two European Service Modules is already in place with ESA’s prime contractor Airbus DS in Bremen, Germany. ESA has already supplied the first European Service Module, which is being connected to Orion’s Crew Module this month. The second module is currently being built in Bremen, and expected for shipment to the U.S. next year.

Third Mission: Landing On The Moon

The Artemis-3 mission is slated to launch on NASA’s Space Launch System in 2024. Up to four astronauts will travel on Orion and dock at the planned Gateway in lunar orbit. From there, two of the astronauts will board a lander that will bring them to the South Pole of the Moon. This will be the first time astronauts have visited the South Pole — a place of permanently lit areas and eternal shadows, but also of lunar ice, which can be extracted and used for deep space propulsion.

Artist’s impression of the Gateway and Orion. The Gateway is the next structure to be launched by the partners of the International Space Station. During the 2020s, it will be assembled and operated in the vicinity of the Moon, where it will move between different orbits and enable the most distant human space missions ever attempted. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab

The two astronauts involved in the landing will become the thirteenth and fourteenth humans to walk on the Moon and NASA intends for one of these people to be a woman.

“Working on this third module really brings it home,” said Nico Dettmann, ESA’s head of development at human and robotic exploration. “We are working on the hardware that NASA aims to put the first woman to the Moon.”

ESA has designed and is overseeing the development of Orion’s service module, the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity and propulsion. Much like a train engine pulls passenger carriages and supplies power, the European Service Module will take the Orion capsule to its destination and back. Image Credit: ESA–K.Oldenburg

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