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ESA deal hinges on what Trump does with NASA’s human spaceflight plans

ESA deal hinges on what Trump does with NASA’s human spaceflight plans
ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft is the European Service Module, designed to provide the spacecraft’s propulsion, electrical power, water and thermal control. The propulsion qualification model, designed by Airbus Defence and Space, was assembled by OHB Sweden. Credit: ESA

NANTES, France — A barter agreement the European Space Agency hopes to reach with NASA next year assumes the Trump administration won’t drastically change the deep space exploration plans set in motion by the Obama administration.

That assumption is now being put to the test as NASA studies putting astronauts on the first flight of the Space Launch System instead of waiting for the heavy-lift rocket’s second mission for Orion’s crewed debut. What’s more, a NASA authorization bill headed toward final passage next week calls for a 60-day look at what it would take to launch crew on Orion to the International Space Station using rockets other than SLS.

Orion with European-built service module

Orion with European-built service module

The European Space Agency, to cover its financial commitment to the International Space Station program through 2020, is paying Airbus Defence and Space roughly $400 million to design and build the service module that will be bolted onto Orion to provide power and propulsion when the capsule launches atop SLS in 2018 on a currently uncrewed mission dubbed Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1.

ESA, which was the last of NASA’s space station partners to commit to sticking with the program through 2024, has proposed building two additional Orion service modules and develop a new service-module propulsion system and deep space habitat technology as part of a no-exchange-of-funds contribution for ISS use from 2021 to 2024. Such a contribution would give ESA a key role in NASA’s plans for sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since the 1972 conclusion of the Apollo moon program.

ESA’s thinking was that those two service modules would be used for Orion and SLS’s planned 2021 mission, dubbed EM-2, and the EM-3 mission that would follow a year or so later. On Feb. 16, a 200-million euro contract for the European service module for Orion’s EM-2 flight was signed in Bremen, Germany, by ESA and Airbus Defence and Space.

ESA’s director of human space flight and exploration, David Parker, told SpaceNews in a Feb. 3 interview that ESA’s offer to build two more service modules, develop a new service-module propulsion system and the deep space habitat technology “is contingent on confirmation from the NASA side of their overall policy in the context of the new administration.” He added that: “We hope to reach a conclusion, an agreement in 2018, so we can start work in 2019 for whatever it is we’re building.”

With NASA considering launching a crew on Orion’s EM-1 flight and Congress asking the agency to look at sending Orion to ISS, a rather long shadow has been cast across Parker’s expectations.

In a Feb. 22 email exchange with SpaceNews, Parker, and the agency’s head of transportation, Nico Dettman, said: “ESA has been fully informed regarding the NASA study to fly crew on EM-1. We are contributing to the study by analysing the schedule impact in case ESM1 shall become man-rated.” Parker and Dettman did not comment on the Orion ISS crew transport report called for in the NASA authorization bill, which still must be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be signed into law by Trump.

The re-evaluation of EM-1 and the Senate’s interest in using Orion for ISS transport come as the Trump administration is working toward a late April target for sending its 2018 budget request to Congress. Trump’s budget proposal is expected to provide the first indications of a change of direction for the U.S. human spaceflight program.

Parker said Feb. 3 that NASA’s current political holding pattern does not mean that negotiations with NASA cannot continue, just that “nothing can be concluded.”

Parker declined to put a dollar value on its proposed ISS contribution, calling it a “complicated mix of factors” that included use of NASA’s data-relay system, “upload and download” mass and additional European astronaut flights.

Pressing ahead

Meanwhile, in preparation for the potential ISS 2021-2024 contribution deal, European technical studies this year will assess avionics, habitation modules and life support systems for a cislunar habitat and new propulsion options for the Orion service module.

While ESA’s technical studies are ongoing, one possible European cislunar technology will go to the ISS this year. “[The] advanced crew life support system,” Parker explained, “has the potential to be one of the contributing technologies for deep space exploration”.

The study of new propulsion options for the service module is being done because the module uses the space shuttle’s orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engine and its supply is limited. “There are propulsion trade-offs for how to enhance [the propulsion system] for the long-term,” Parker said Feb. 3.

Parker expects the first three service modules to use the OMS, which uses the fuel monomethyl hydrazine and the oxidizer, nitrogen tetroxide and produces 6,000 pounds of thrust. ESA is considering four alternate engines, Dettman told SpaceNews in a Feb. 3 interview, but he declined to say which engines. One possible alternate hydrazine engine is the Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ10-118k. It produces a 9,850-pound thrust at altitude and was used for the second stage of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket.

Even as cislunar technology technical studies get underway, ESA’s prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space will still be working on the service module for Orion’s first flight, which was to have been delivered to NASA in January. Parker said Feb. 3 that the service module will be “delivered towards the end of this year.” That’s a further delay from the April estimate ESA gave last summer when it said it wouldn’t be able to make a January delivery.

Dettman said that the first service module’s delay will not add to its 390 million euro fixed-price contract cost. The new delay, Dettman explained Feb. 3, was due to the design review last October identifying changes to the first ESM’s flight model and suppliers delivering some subsystems for it late.

The review also found that the current service module design was too heavy for the second Orion flight, EM-2, which is planned to be a manned eight-day circumlunar mission.

Dettman said Feb. 3 there will be other subsystem changes to the service module for EM-2 and possibly more for the EM-3 mission, which is, “not yet fully defined”.

Source: Space News

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Commercial space cargo ship’s ride to orbit assembled for March 19 launch

Commercial space cargo ship’s ride to orbit assembled for March 19 launch

The OA-7 Cygnus launch poster. Credit: United Launch Alliance

CAPE CANAVERAL — An Atlas 5 booster core and Centaur upper stage have been stacked to launch another commercial freighter with supplies and scientific research gear to the International Space Station next month.

The United Launch Alliance rocket is scheduled to fly March 19 to deploy Orbital ATK’s seventh Cygnus ship for NASA’s privatized cargo-delivery program.

It’ll be the third time an Atlas 5 has launched a Cygnus carrying its maximum load of cargo amounting to about 7,700 pounds.

Preparations at Cape Canaveral’s Vertical Integration Facility began yesterday when the first stage was erected aboard the mobile launch platform. The pre-stacked interstage, Centaur and boattail assembly was hoisted into place this morning to complete the basic buildup of the Atlas 5.

The rocket will be powered on and fully tested in the next two weeks to verify all systems are functioning properly. The encapsulated Cygnus will be delivered to the assembly building and attached in early March.

The 194-foot-tall rocket will be rolled out to the Complex 41 launch pad on March 17.

File photos of the Atlas 5 stacking from OA-4. Credit: NASA-KSC

The Cygnus was loaded with its initial complement of cargo over the last 10 days at Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility. The cylindrical module’s hatch was then closed before the vessel was turned vertically and mated to its propulsion tug on Valentine’s Day.

Next, the craft will be fueled at the nearby Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility and the hatchway reopened to allow the insertion of late-load cargo.

The spacecraft will weigh nearly 16,500 pounds at launch.

Cygnus will be the third resupply ship scheduled to visit the station in a one-month period, a flurry of flights by its commercial counterpart SpaceX, a Russian Progress craft and then the Cygnus.

The Atlas 5’s launch on March 19 is targeted for 10:56 p.m. EDT (0256 GMT), the opening of a half-hour available window.

Known as Orbital ATK’s OA-7 mission, the Cygnus is scheduled to make a March 23 rendezvous with the International Space Station and be grabbed by the 58-foot-long Canadarm2. It will be attached to the station’s Unity module for a 90-day stay.

See earlier OA-7 Cygnus coverage.

Our Atlas archive.

Source: Space Flight

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NASA conducts static-fire test of the RS-25 engines to be used for Space Launch System

NASA conducts static-fire test of the RS-25 engines to be used for Space Launch System
Aerojet Rocketdyne signed a $1.16 billion contract with NASA to restart production of the RS-25 engines that will be used on future launches of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The company has been building RS-25 engines since the space shuttle program. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

NASA conducted another static-fire test of the RS-25 engines that will be used on the Space Launch System.

The test of the engine, lasting 380 seconds, is part of a broader effort to qualify the engines for use on the core stage of the SLS and to test design tweaks.

Separately, Aerojet Rocketdyne announced Wednesday that it set a new U.S. record for the highest chamber pressure in a liquid oxygen/kerosene main engine during tests of the staged combustion system of the company’s AR1 engine that is currently under development. [ / Aerojet Rocketdyne]

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A troubled military aircraft program overshadowed space at Airbus Defence and Space in 2016. The company said that a $2.3 billion charge it took on the A400M military transport aircraft program brought down the company’s revenues last year. The company’s space business, by contrast, is doing well, Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said at a Wednesday press conference, noting that the company took in more space-related orders in 2016 than it filled. [SpaceNews]

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Source: Space News

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