PARIS — The European Space Agency has promised NASA that the latest delay in Europe’s work on NASA’s Orion crew transport vehicle will not force a slip in the vehicle’s planned 2017 unmanned test launch, and that European financial support for one of three companies competing for NASA commercial crew work will not disrupt the competition.
In a Jan. 17 press briefing here, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the preliminary design review for the Europe-built service module for Orion is now scheduled to start April 1 and to be completed in mid-May.
That is nearly a year behind the original schedule, with the delays resulting from multiple technical issues, notably the fact that the module’s initial design — based on Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle freighters for the international space station — is several hundred kilograms overweight.
The delay has made an already tight delivery schedule even tighter, raising questions about whether the European work would be responsible for a slip in the launch date. Dordain said this would not happen.
“I have committed to NASA that the PDR [preliminary design review] will not cause a delay in the delivery of the service module,” Dordain said. Under the revised schedule, he said, ESA and NASA in June will assemble an integrated calendar for the Orion vehicle, also known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
ESA earlier this month granted a request by Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., for technical assistance on the company’s Dream Chaser crew transport vehicle, one of three designs competing for the next funding round of NASA’s commercial crew program. The other two companies, which have proposed capsules instead of the Dream Chaser winged vehicle, are Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
ESA has agreed to spend about 8 million euros ($11 million) on a year-long program to investigate adapting ESA-developed work into Dream Chaser, notably a docking system.
Dordain insisted on the fact that this was not ESA’s initiative, but rather a request from Sierra Nevada that ESA was happy to accept. But he said he took care to inform NASA that if Boeing or SpaceX wanted the same kind of technical assistance, ESA would provide it to them as well.
The main point, he said, is that the ESA relationship — Sierra Nevada has a similar agreement with the German space agency, DLR — will not be used to tip the scales in favor of Sierra Nevada in the NASA competition. “NASA would take a dim view of that,” he said. “But in general it’s good news that U.S. companies think highly enough of our technologies that they would like to use them.”
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