First Orion European Space Module Delivered

The European Space Module arrived in Florida for the upcoming 2020 Orion Exploration Mission 1.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a European Space Module. (Image source: NASA)

The first European Space Module  (ESM) just arrived in Titusville, Florida in preparation for its installation on the next-generation Orion  multi-purpose crew vehicle and testing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center . With Orion capsule testing and the ESM delivery milestone complete, NASA  is two years out from Orion Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) – the program’s unmanned spacecraft validation mission around the Moon in 2020.

An artist’s impression of the ESM directly below the Orion capsule (Image source: ESA)
ESA’s ATV-4 – the basis for the Orion Program’s ESM, approached ISS in 2013. (Image source: NASA/ESA)
The ESM is loaded into a Volga-Dnepr Airlines Antonov An-124-100 commercial transport aircraft for transport to Florida. (Image source: Volga-Dnepr Airlines)

Developed and built by the European Space Agency  (ESA) and Ottobrunn, Germany-based Airbus Defence and Space , the ESM will provide space propulsion and course correction once the Orion spacecraft separates from the Space Launch System  heavy-lift launch vehicle. The module will also supply the Orion spacecraft with power, water, and thermal control.

Read more: Final Orion capsule parachute system test successful

The cylindrical ESM resembles ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle  (ATV) developed by the European agency to deliver payload mass – or upmass – to the ISS. Including the main engine and propellant tanks, the ESM is four meters long with a 19-meter-wide solar array. The module has one main engine that delivers forward thrust and 32 smaller thrusters for omnidirectional course correction. In total, the ESM propulsion system uses approximately 9 tons of propellant.

The 14-ton ESM was transported from an ESA facility in Bremen, Germany in a special temperature- and pressure-controlled container aboard a Volga-Dnepr Airlines  Antonov  An-124-100 commercial transport aircraft. The transport aircraft also brought with it 10 tons of ESM support equipment.

“It is an honor for us to be supporting such a significant and historic endeavor. Providing specialist transportation for the aerospace industry is one of Volga-Dnepr Airlines’ key areas of expertise and every year we operate more than 50 flights carrying various space cargoes, including satellites, parts of spacecraft, rockets, and boosters,” says Volga-Dnepr Airlines Executive President for Cargo Charter Operations, Konstantin Vekshin.

For 30 years, the An-124 held the title of world's heaviest gross weight production cargo airplane until the development of the Boeing 747-8 Freighter  in 2005. The An-124 still remains the largest military transport aircraft in the world.

“The unique capabilities of our Antonov 124-100 and Ilyushin 76TD-90VD freighters, with their ramp loading capabilities and onboard crane systems, combined with our three decades of experience, enables our team of experts to provide safe, secure, time-saving, and cost-efficient solutions for deliveries of such important and sensitive cargoes. We wish this unique, history-changing space mission every success,” continues Vekshin.

These partnerships and exploration missions are exactly the foundation needed for space technology development.

For the last 40 years, humans have been travelling into low-Earth orbit. In 2022, two years after EM-1, Orion will take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, further into space than ever before to collect scientific data and develop enabling technologies – potentially for when the time comes to send humans to Mars of further.

Orion’s course for the EM-1 mission and for future manned missions exceed distances travelled by astronauts since Apollo 17 – the last lunar landing – in 1972. (Image source: Airbus Defence and Space)

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..