“Yes, you see a lot of wires and tubes already integrated,” says Witte. “At the moment I’d say it’s about 70% complete. You’re missing the big parts – like the advanced electronic equipment and the tanks. That’s why it doesn’t look as much if you compare it to the other structures.”
This is hardly surprising. “There are 22,000 parts per module. It appears already full but the amount of parts still to come is incredible.”
Each ESM is 4m (13.2ft) wide, 4m high, will take 16 months to complete and, on launch, weigh around 13 tonnes. ESM-1 has already flown successfully. It launched on 16 November 2022 as part of the Artemis I mission and propelled an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit on a 25-day return mission.
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The inaugural ESM used four 7m-long (24ft) wings, each consisting of three solar panels, to help propel an uncrewed Orion capsule on a 25-day return mission into lunar orbit. The rest of the ESMs are on the production line, in various stages of completion, designed to provide propulsion, electrical power and life support for astronauts.
“It’s like a factory and this is what we are proud of,” says Ralph Zimmermann, Orion ESM project manager at Airbus. “We are contracted for six ESMs right now. The first one has flown. The second one has been delivered to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and is in a testing phase and will undergo further integration with the crew module. And then there’s numbers three, four and five that you can see here in the 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 electric 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 with the Orion crew module and prepared for launch in 2025.