Orion Service Module
- Bernardo Patti
CHRIS: We’re here with Bernardo Patti from the European Space Agency. Today, we’re going to be talking about the Orion Service Module. Bernardo, how are you doing?
BERNARDO: I’m doing fine. Thank you very much and thank you for being here.
CHRIS: How is ESA going to be leveraging the ATV technologies into the Orion Service Module?
BERNARDO: Right. Let’s first see what is the service module. Let’s imagine it as a big truck which is pushing the crew module. What a big truck needs is an engine. So, essentially it’s a big propulsion module.
BERNARDO: That’s where the analogy stops because it provides also other services to the crew module; power, storage of consumable, heat rejection. So, many of these features are already built in onto the ATV propulsion module. We are going to use similar architecture and put together similar equipment. Sometime we’re going to customize it and make it work for beyond LEO mission.
CHRIS: Also, you may be putting in some cutting edge technology into the vehicle as well.
BERNARDO: Yes. We are using similar technologies for the propulsion elements. Where we are using the main engine is a U.S. provided engine from the shuttle.
BERNARDO: We are using other engines that were already in the ATV. On the solar panels, you can consider that the solar panels are in evolution from the one on the ATV. We are using some heritage but also some quite great deal of innovation. The storage of consumable is essentially similar and, of course, what is being customized is the heat rejection, which is quite different. And also the structure itself because it’s really mission tailored.
CHRIS: Since this service module will be attached to the crew module, what are some of the challenges of human rating a spacecraft?
BERNARDO: That’s a great point, Chris. Human rating a spacecraft is very different if you do a low Earth orbit spacecraft or if you do an interplanetary spacecraft. Why? Because in low Earth orbit, you are not constrained by mass as much as you are when you go beyond low Earth orbit. Now, the challenge is that, of course, the crew has to be absolutely safe. We have also to respect the very stringent mass constraints that we have. That’s where the challenge and ingenuity of our ingenius is required because you can’t just make everything double. If you put everything double, that will never fly. You would be totally safe and safer because it stays on the ground. It is a mix of redundancy, cross trapping reliability and clever architecture that we have to implement in order have it human rated to guarantee in the end the full safety of the crew.
CHRIS: So, it’s very important when you do your trade studies to balance all those components.
BERNARDO: Indeed. And we are doing that in close cooperation with NASA. We cannot do that on our own. It would never work. You have only to see the vehicle as a single vehicle. There’s not such a thing as the crew module and the service module. That would never work. You have to think about the Orion vehicle and to have an integrated architecture that satisfies the requirement of human rating.
CHRIS: When we develop a spacecraft that big, it’s hard to rely on just one country to build everything. Who are some of the partners for ESA in developing the service module?
BERNARDO: Yes. It’s a very articulated effort in Europe. We are having to participate and build this service module. It is led by a country and a company. The country being Germany. The company being Astrium located in Bremen. There are many other countries in Europe; France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and some other countries that are also supporting the development of this spacecraft. In Europe, we are quite use to do cooperation within countries. That’s all about ESA. The list is very long. I’ve just mentioned the important ones that are providing hardware that then would be integrated in Bremen and then shipped to KSC for final integration and testing with the rest of the Orion spacecraft.
CHRIS: Is the service module going to be reused every single time or is it something you’ll have to rebuild each time.
BERNARDO: We have to rebuild each time. The service module is totally expendable. It is being separated from the crew module before entry. It burns into the atmosphere while the crew prepare for entry and, of course, land safely on the ground.
CHRIS: You currently work on the ISS as well.
CHRIS: How different is the challenge of constructing the International Space Station and maintaining it in low Earth orbit as opposed to developing this new spacecraft going beyond low Earth orbit to Mars, to an asteroid or beyond?
BERNARDO: This is a great question. I’m grateful for it. If you want to see the ISS as a big modular house which you can build like Lego pieces. Things have to be compatible but not necessarily totally integrated. You can have these ?? build a module one way and the other one different way as you plug them together and they work. A spacecraft like Orion is a totally integrated spacecraft. You can’t afford multi-design philosophy in the architecture. It has to be really integrated because if it was you lose one thing you lose the efficiency, the mass, and in the end the performance of your spacecraft goes down, and you don’t perform the mission. As opposed to the multi-variety of the ISS, which has been built in various pieces. It never suffered from the mass criteria. What do you do if it is heavier? You have a shuttle fly extra.
CHRIS: Right. Right.
BERNARDO: Which, of course, would be more expensive but it’s not a “go,” “no go.” This is a “go,” “no go.” You can’t afford to have multi philosophy for the design of this spacecraft.
CHRIS: Human exploration has always fascinated the public. Sometimes we have a challenge in the United States to get kids excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. What do you see the European people in terms of getting excited about in human space exploration?
BERNARDO: Well, I guess we’re not that different.
BERNARDO: We are facing the same challenges. We have to explain to the community at large and to the young people that intelligence is a great investment. It is fine to listen to pop music, to watch sports. I love pop music and I love sports but intelligence is a thing very important. Education is something very important. Innovation is something very important. What is the best challenge? What better challenge then exploring the universe by sending three or four of our colleagues beyond our low Earth orbit and looking at what is there? I think this is extremely exciting. There’s room for all the creativity of all of us in there. You can be an astronaut. You can be an engineer. You can operate. There’s room for everyone on this great trip. I think this is the challenge of our society, to understand how much this is important.
CHRIS: When that service module is built in Germany, are you going to find a place to sign your name inside?
BERNARDO: Well, we are negotiating that very hard. I think we’ll find a way to have it on it. Unfortunately, it’s going to burn down in the atmosphere. But at least we will have our picture taken before the launch, close to the little encryption on the structure.
CHRIS: Well Bernardo, thank you so much.
BERNARDO: Thank you.
CHRIS: I appreciate it.
BERNARDO: It was nice to have you here.
CHRIS: Thank you.
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