Discover the European ESM module, a key part of the Artemis mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) will contribute to the Artemis program with a key piece: the ESM service module. This is the first time that ESA has participated, providing key technology, in a NASA program for future manned expeditions.

The ESM (European Service Module) will be docked just below the Orion capsule of the Artemis I mission, which will be launched — without a crew — on Monday (29).

It functions as the capsule’s brain after it separates from the rocket, providing propulsion, power, thermal control, and computers (which interpret sensor data and issue commands). In future manned flights, it will also offer life support to astronauts.

The cylinder, about 4 meters tall and in diameter and weighing 13 tons, will propel Orion into lunar orbit once the device detaches from the main stage of the SLS launcher, about eight minutes after liftoff from Cape Base. Canaveral (Florida).

The unpressurized ESM will also provide electricity and, starting with the Artemis 2 mission, will provide essential services for future astronauts such as water, oxygen and temperature control.

The module will also enable Orion’s orbital maneuvers and attitude control (spatial guidance) and will later serve to transport material to the future Gateway lunar orbital station.

ESM module - ESA/Airbus - ESA/Airbus

ESM module is a cylinder 4 meters high and in diameter, weighing 13 tons

Image: ESA/Airbus

The construction of the ESM was carried out by Airbus Defense and Space, of the European Airbus consortium, in the German city of Bremen, with the participation of ten European countries.

The company leveraged its experience in building the European Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which from 2008 to 2015 supplied the crews of the International Space Station (ISS).

Ensuring proper ESM performance on this Artemis test flight is “a huge responsibility,” one of Airbus’ top space systems managers Jean-Marc Nasr said on Tuesday.

In Artemis I, the module should present “sufficient performance to retrieve as much information” about its operation, explained the head of the ESM program at ESA, Philippe Deloo.

This information will allow testing for “future stages” of the lunar program, he added.

On the fourth Artemis mission, for example, the Orion capsule with its ESM will serve as a tug to dock a crew module to the future Gateway station in lunar orbit.

The first mission will last 42 days.

The cost of designing and building the first ESM amounted to €650 million.

NASA’s order for the first six ESMs totals €2.1 billion, ESA directors said.

The last time humans went to the Moon, during the program Apollo in the 1970s, Europeans were left out. Now, they have a prominent role in technology and guaranteed seats in future missions.

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