The European module of services will control the power, air and water of the Orion ship.
Credit: Bill White / NASA
NASA advances with the assembly of its Orion crew capsule for the first full test flight of the new system, thanks to a special delivery from the European Space Agency (ESA).
The European Service Module is responsible for the power, air and water of the Orion capsule and now that the first module has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center of Florida at NASA, engineers may begin to connect the assembly that will fly around the moon in 2020.
"I wanted to go up and give you a cozy hug, but they did not let me do it," said Bill Hill, the associate deputy director of NASA for Exploration Systems Development, during a NASA press conference announcing the safe arrival of the service [Spectacular Photos: NASA Practices Orion Capsule Recovery at Sea]
NASA and ESA engineers who have traveled with the module have already confirmed that the segment did not take any damage during its trip through the Atlantic. Now, it's a matter of integration and testing, integration and testing, over and over until the ship is ready to fly, said Mark Kirasich, NASA's program director at Orion, during the press conference.
The first connection will unite the service module and the adapter of the crew module, which precisely requires aligning the units and installing 192 screws. "The alignment is a critical part of the process, it's taking a bit of time," he said during the Amy Marasia conference, which is monitoring the assembly of the crew module for the next flight. "We are gathering two elements that were built on different sides of the ocean, so it's something to expect."
Next, the couple moves to a clean room for welding, and then to a special chamber that can be covered with helium so that the equipment can verify if there is leakage in the welding. The team will install systems, such as the star tracker, which helps astronauts calculate their location and make electrical connections throughout the unit.
All this before turning the power switch, which is currently scheduled for January 2019. With the full set, NASA staff will conduct comprehensive environmental tests on the modules united in February and March.
Assuming that everything is going well, the crew's own capsule will be connected in May, at which time the whole assembly will travel to Ohio for more than two months of additional testing. When this process is completed, the package will be sent back to Florida for its 2020 flight.
Although ESA spent seven years designing and building this service module, it would not be able to feed a manned flight, since it did not meet the limit that NASA determined the weight that ESA could fill. This is because the requirements for the module have changed over the years.
There is no oxygen tank in the module, for example – what's fine, without any astronauts that breathe it. The next ESA service module, which will fly on the first Orion flight, will perform the tank and will include other design components that were not prepared for this unit.
"We had to go to the diet, every day we had to go to the diet and, well, you already know what happens with diets … You make an effort for a few weeks and then something happens and you lose everything," said Philippe Deloo, O responsible for the ESA program for the European services module, said during the press conference. "We have had a diet for about seven years."