Group Recommends ESA Develop Orion Propulsion System

Space News
reports that European space officials are leaning toward supporting a plan that would have ESA supply the propulsion module for NASA’s Orion deep-space vehicle:

A French-German working group established to coordinate the policies of Europe’s two biggest space program backers has concluded that the European Space Agency (ESA) should provide a propulsion module for NASA’s Orion crew-transport capsule to pay ESA’s space station operating costs between 2017 and 2020, government and industry officials said….

NASA proposed that ESA use technologies developed for ATV to provide the propulsion module for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, an investment that has been estimated to roughly cover the 450 million euros [$553 million] needed.

But several ESA governments, notably France and Italy, protested that a subcontractor’s role for Europe on Orion would not generate public enthusiasm. CNES proposed an alternative, called the Versatile Autonomous Concept. This vehicle would perform multiple tasks in low Earth orbit, eventually including the removal of large pieces of space debris.

Whether NASA would accept this vehicle as ESA’s “barter element” was never clear. What was clear was that the vehicle would cost much more than 450 million euros [$553 million].

DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Woerner said Germany could accept the CNES-proposed vehicle, but that “an independent spacecraft cannot be realized for the amount of money which is available. The module for Orion is, so far, the only one which can be realized within the 450 million.”

The versatile vehicle’s costs are not yet fully defined but have been estimated at about 1 billion euros [$1.23 billion] — “and 1 billion euros does not fit within 450 million euros as I understand it,” Woerner said.

ESA developed ATV to send cargo to the International Space Station. However, the agency will end the program after the fifth ATV flight and has been considering whether to adapt the vehicle for other uses.

This news follows a report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia that Lockheed Martin is in discussions with RSC Energia about having the company build docking and thermal protection components for the Orion spacecraft. The same report said that Boeing is also in discussions with the Russian space giant to produce similar components for the CST-100 spacecraft, which is Boeing’s entry in NASA’s commercial crew program.

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