“Yeah, you see a lot of wires and tubes already integrated,” Witt says. “At the moment, I would say it’s about 70% complete. It’s missing the big parts – like advanced electronic equipment and tanks. That’s why it doesn’t look quite as much if you compare it to other builds.”
This is not surprising. “There are 22,000 parts per unit. It looks like it’s already full but the amount of parts that are coming is incredible.”
Each ESM module is 4 meters (13.2 ft) wide, 4 meters high, will take 16 months to complete, and, upon launch, weigh approximately 13 tons. ESM-1 has already flown successfully. It was launched on November 16, 2022 as part of the Artemis I mission and propelled the uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit on a 25-day return mission.
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The inaugural ESM used four 7-meter (24-foot) wings, each consisting of three solar panels, to help propel the uncrewed Orion capsule on a 25-day return mission to lunar orbit. The rest of the ESM modules are on the production line, in various stages of completion, and are designed to provide propulsion, electrical power, and life support for the astronauts.
“It’s like a factory and that’s what we’re proud of,” says Ralph Zimmermann, Orion ESM Project Manager at Airbus. “We’ve been contracted for six of the ESMs right now. The first has flown in. The second has been delivered to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and is in the testing phase and will undergo further integration with the crew module. And then there’s number three, four and five that you can see here in a clean room in different states of integration.”
ESM-4 is at a more advanced stage than ESM-5, which is currently being integrated with internal components, such as mechanical and electrical subsystems. ESM-3 will be delivered to NASA, from the airport on the site’s doorstep, in October, where it will be integrated with solar arrays, mated to the Orion crew module and ready for launch in 2025.