ESA's Orion Service Module On A Diet

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The European Space Agency (ESA) and its industrial partners need to reduce the weight of a service module they are developing to fly on NASA's Orion multipurpose crew exploration vehicle in 2017, a hurdle that will delay the European service module's preliminary design review by a little more than three months.

Based on Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the service module development is to be led by Astrium Space Transportation, the prime contractor on the ATV. Astrium has been working on the effort since shortly before ESA member states approved a first tranche of around 250 million in funding for the service module at a ministerial budget meeting in November last year.

Thomas Reiter, ESA director of humans spaceflight, says the service module is roughly a half-metric-ton overweight. He says the agency is working closely with NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin to reduce the weight of the module before its preliminary design review, which is now slated for October or November.

ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain says funding for the program is being released to Astrium in slices, but that project development is currently covered through this summer. At that point, he expects to award a contract to Astrium to continue work into 2014, when the agency's 20 member states will again meet to approve a second tranche of about 200 million for the 455-million service-module development.

“It's not the service module itself that is the bottleneck of the mass problems,” Dordain said during a press conference here June 17. “This is something we need to do with NASA, we can't do it on our own.”

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