BERLIN (Reuters) – Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA) on Friday delivered the “powerhouse” for NASA’s new Orion Spaceship that will take astronauts to the Moon and beyond in coming years, hitting a key milestone that should lead to hundreds of millions of euros in future orders.
Engineers at the Airbus plant in Bremen, Germany on Thursday carefully packed the spacecraft into a special container that will fly aboard a huge Antonov cargo plane to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a first step on its way to deep space.
In Florida, the module will be joined with the Orion crew module built by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), followed by over a year of intensive testing before the first three-week mission orbiting the Moon is launched in 2020, albeit without people.
Future production of Orion and the European module could result in billions of dollars of new orders for the companies involved in coming years, said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations for NASA.
“This is the system that will enable humans to move sustainably into deep space … and leave the Earth-Moon system for the first time ever,” he said.
Current plans are for a first crewed mission in 2022, but NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) then plan to launch a manned mission every year, making the Orion project both politically and economically important at a time when China and other countries are racing to gain a foothold in space.