NASA has signed an agreement with ESA (the European Space Agency) for the latter to supply service modules for NASA’s Orion manned spacecraft, due to launch in 2017. The modules will use technology from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) currently ferrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) and will provide propulsion, power and life support to the Orion module.
Orion, originally designed as NASA’s replacement for the Space Shuttle, is intended for cislunar (between Earth and the Moon) and other missions in deep space, as commercial carriers take over freight and passenger duty for the ISS. The Orion capsule is an enlarged and advanced version of the Apollo Command Module and, like the Command Module, it needs a service module in order to function for more than a limited time. On its own, the Orion can only sustain itself during the period of reentry in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of a mission.