After leaving the hangar, preparations continue around the first Artemis mission, which must take off at the end of spring to reach the Moon. On March 18, NASA unveiled the entire device for the first time, an orange and white monster 98 meters high, now stationed on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral.
→ CONTEXT. Space: with the Artemis program, the hope of answering the mysteries of the Moon
This first Artemis flight will be unmanned, but will still leave with the Orion spaceship. Thanks to him, NASA intends to repeat the exploits of the Apollo epic, whose last flight dates back to 1972, and to prove that the United States is still in the lead in the space race. But it will be necessary to wait for Artemis 2, the second launch of this new lunar program, for astronauts to board Orion, heading for the Moon. And there is no question of asking about it; this will only come with Artemis 3.
The service module, a European “X-wing”
If the inhabited part of the vessel depends on the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Europe is in charge of its service module, called “ESM”, via the Airbus company. “It is a cylindrical part of a little more than four meters in diameter which is located behind the inhabited module”, describes Antoine Alouani, propulsion specialist at Airbus and who has been working on the Orion project for four years. ESM provides astronauts with the essentials for survival in space: air, water, electricity, thermal regulation and propulsion.
→ ANALYSIS. Space: we are going to walk on the Moon again
Electricity comes from four solar panels, which have earned the module the nickname “X-wing” after starships in the Star Wars universe. The engines are chemically powered. “The main engine is a former small engine from the American space shuttle, which NASA provided, details Antoine Alouani. It is accompanied by eight secondary engines, designed according to the same design as the engines of the ATV, a European cargo vessel. »
Besides the first ESM, Airbus has already delivered a second module for the next mission. And in Bremen, Germany, we are getting our hands dirty on the third ESM, the one that will be used to (re)place humanity on the Moon.
“It requires a lot of coordination to ensure overall consistency between American and European requirements, but that’s normal on a mission of this magnitude”, says the manager. He is impatiently but confidently awaiting the data from the first flight, which should validate the European expertise. For the future, an additional batch of three ESMs is already planned.