The service module contribution has strong backing from Germany, which has shouldered 40% of Europe's spending on the space station to date. Others, notably Italy, reduced their contribution to the program through 2014, while France—ESA's second-largest contributor—is cautioning only provisional support for ISS through the end of the decade.
“France is ready to pursue ISS to 2020 provided we are able to master the costs,” Joel Barre, head of operations for French space agency CNES, said Jan. 15 in Paris. “We also believe there should be better balance between Europe and the U.S., and hope [Orion] could redirect our operation to a more balanced relationship in the decision-making process.”
Still, the two agencies expressed cautious optimism about the future course of the partnership, the first international involvement in NASA's deep-space ambitions, which are focused on a human mission to a near-Earth asteroid in 2025.
“When we talk about international cooperation, it is not talked about lightly here,” Gerstenmaier says. “We probably would not have done this without the experience we had on the space station. We have learned the real meaning of cooperation is not actually counting on your partner to be there. It's actually giving up a piece of the spacecraft. That was not done lightly.”
Reiter agrees: “We are looking for synergies in technical and programmatic ways. ESA has proven to be a reliable partner in the context of the ISS. Based on that, especially the ATV, this is a good choice to make for exploration—synergies that have been developed in the past that can be beneficial for reaching a common objective.”
Under the terms of the agreement, NASA will furnish the Orion capsule, launch-abort system and adapters that protect the capsule's heat shield. NASA will also merge the service module to the SLS as well as jettisonable fairings.
ESA—most likely through ATV industrial prime contractor Astrium Space Transportation—will provide the actual service module structure, holding propulsion and solar-power components as well as the life-support needs of the Orion crews. The first service module will integrate spare NASA shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System components. The Europeans will also provide sustaining engineering for their hardware, which could be used for the second Orion flight in 2021. Beyond that, however, Gerstenmaier says Europe's continued participation in Orion is unknown.
“We have made sure we have kept the right intellectual property that's available to us on the NASA/U.S.-government side so that we can manufacture the follow-on service modules if we need to on our side, or if we decide it is advantageous to us to continue on those future flights with the Europeans, we can work with the Europeans to do that,” Gerstenmaier says. “We've really made no decisions about those future flights.”
In the meantime, Bernardo Patti, ESA director of operations for the ISS, says industry will operate under a tight schedule to develop and integrate the service module hardware in time for NASA's planned 2017 test flight. Although industry contracts have not been awarded, he expects the project to achieve preliminary design review (PDR) in 2013.