The European Space Agency (ESA) will design and build the service module for the Orion spacecraft, a vehicle being designed and built mainly by NASA to take astronauts on missions to the International Space Station (ISS), the Moon, and beyond. This vital piece of the spacecraft will house all in-space propulsion capability for changing orbits, attitude control, and high-altitude aborts. It is also where electricity is generated and stored, where water and air (nitrogen and oxygen) for the astronauts are kept, and it contains thermal controls for the spacecraft.
The service module remains connected to the crew capsule until just before the capsule returns to Earth. Then it is ejected into space and likely burns up on reentry. ESA is building the module to “pay” its share of operating and servicing costs for the ISS.
The service module is one of three major modules. The other two include the crew capsule, which carries the astronauts and cargo into space and brings them back to Earth, and the launch abort module. The abort section should pull the crew to safety in case of a life-threatening emergency during launch. Orion’s first flight is scheduled for next year, Exploration Flight Test-1. It involves an unmanned
Orion launched by a Delta IV Heavy rocket to an altitude of 3,600‰miles, higher than a spacecraft has gone in 40‰years. For this first flight, a test service module is being built by Lockheed Martin. The first flight with the ESA module will be in 2017, Exploration Mission 1, another unmanned flight. On this mission, NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket will carry Orion into orbit.