When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin arrived on the Moon in 1969, the force that led them there was, above all, politics. Earlier in 1957, the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 triggered the space race and accelerated the Apollo program to success. Now, NASA is preparing to send the astronauts back from the Earth's orbit, starting with the Moon and eventually reaching Mars. But this time it is not a competition and this time does not do it without help. Orion, the US ship that will lead the resurgence of personnel missions in space, has the collaboration of the European Space Agency (ESA), responsible for half of the construction. Missing just to test all the components together, Orion is today less than two years from his first trip and three or four years after his first human flight.
"The contest speeds up the projects, but cooperation allows them to happen," said Johann-Dietrich Wörner, CEO General of ESA, from a hangar at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A few meters behind him, a metallic cylinder of five meters in diameter and a few meters long is on the scaffolding. This is the new service mode of the Orion ship, which arrived last week in the United States in Bremen, Germany. There is the headquarters of Airbus Defense and Space, the Airbus division, which was responsible for building the device and paid for the trip from El Pais to Florida. According to Philippe Deloo, director of the Orion project in Europe, that toolkit is "one of ESA's best engineered parts".
The service module supplies the ship with air, electricity and propulsion among other vital functions and is one of Orion's two main components. The other is the crew cabin – the only reusable item – a truncated cone with a volume of 20 cubic meters and a capacity for six astronauts, built by Lockheed Martin and the American agency itself. "Historically, the United States has shown suspicions when it comes to delegating mission critical missions to other countries," said Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, through the Space Center conference call (Washington DC to Florida A was canceled due to bad weather). "Now we have decided to collaborate on the big projects that no agency can do for themselves, I think it is a very positive change," he added.
This week, with the Kennedy Space Center being assembled in both halves – the crew module and the crew module – the Orion spacecraft is born: the vehicle that will launch a new space exploration era, equipped in deep space. The goal of the United States is no longer to run for the first country to put the flag on the next solar system planet, but to develop a long-term "sustainable" exploration and research program. A program that will "make everyone else look small," according to Guillermo González, head of humanitarian missions mission control and, up to a year ago, head of control over the Orion project in Europe.
The new nautical is the heart of that plan. With this, the current generation of astronauts will travel in the moon's orbit, from where the robots will soon be able to control the surface of the satellite. This technology is already being tested with machines moving on the surface of the Earth under the control of astronauts from the international space station. Overall, space exploration approaches its age, when it will emancipate from the ground control rooms and begin to direct space operations.
Orion has no cargo as the space shuttles that orbit the International Space Station, but it has powerful engines that can take it out of the Earth's orbit. In the future, it will be able to pull components to build a space station that orbits the moon, and missions of the "monthly portal" will continue. "The Americans wanted to go to Mars," says Guillermo González. "They realized they could not go to 10 or 15 years. They will practice on the Moon and then go on Mars," he explains.
A few meters from the hangar, the vehicle that takes Orion off the Earth, a powerful rocket called SLS, is prepared in one of the world's most voluminous buildings. With a height of 100 meters and a load capacity of between 70 and 130 tonnes, it is stronger than any of the Apollo space shuttles or Saturn V missiles. In the summer of 2020, SLS will take off with Orion for its first unmanned mission, a three-week trip that will make the ship surround the dark side of the Moon. When he returns to Earth, the cabin (without crew) will be recovered, but the service module will be consumed in reentry. ESA and Airbus are already preparing a replacement to fly on their first crew mission scheduled for 2022.
Thanks to the NASA and ESA agreements initiated in 2011 for the Orion construction, Europe has extended its access to the International Space Station for the next few years. If European Member States agree, it is likely that collaboration will continue with the production of service modules for many other missions. "In the future, we expect you to order a lot of modules, for example four at a time," said Oliver Juckenhöfel, responsible for Orbital services and Airbus exploration. "Making them one by one will not be effective," he explains.
NASA's new space exploration program has suffered many delays, but there is no doubt that it will go further, with a stop on the moon for the next decade and, predictably, an arrival on Mars over the next decade. "You can see, you can taste it, you can touch it. We're leaving!" The narrator's voice passed a promotional video from NASA through the hangars of the Space Center.
Source: El País