Today, the European Space Agency is kicking off its participation in the NASA Artemis program. It selects Thales Alenia Space for the realization of the Esprit and I-HAB modules of the future lunar space station LOP-G (Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway). Our explanations and insight from Franco Fenoglio, head of transport and manned flight programs at Thales Alenia Space.
As part of the 2020 edition of the International Congress of(IAC), the European Space Agency and Thales Alenia Space have formalized the contracts for the supply of Esprit and I-HAB, two communication, fueling and housing modules of the from (the Gateway, also called the ). They will be developed and built by Thales Alenia Space in Italy and France at a total cost of 622 million euros. These two modules are the European contribution for this and opens a new decade of European exploration towards and Mars.
Let’s put aside the economic and social aspects of these two contracts – by signing them, theguarantees employment in Europe with its industrial partners, as well as the continuation of its Moon and Mars exploration program – to take an interest in the technical aspects of these two modules with Franco Fenoglio, head of human spaceflight programs and space transport at Thales Alenia Space (TAS), which provides some necessary clarification and clarification at the end of the article.
Esprit is a small communications and supply module made up of two elements. It includes storage and refueling systems, elements of electric propulsion, communication systems with the Moon, interface points for external payloads and an airlock to deploy scientific payloads. The first element, named HLCS (Halo Lunar Communication System), will ensure communications between the Gateway and the Moon. It is slated to launch in 2024 with Halo (Habitation and Logistics Outpost).
The second part, ERM (ESPRIT Refueling Module) combines the refueling of the Gateway and a small pressurized module (a tunnel) equipped with largeoffering a 360 ° view of space, the Moon, the and the rest of the Gateway. ERM will ensure active refueling of the space station with chemical fuel and Xenon to extend its of life but also to prepare ” the use of a reusable lunar lander or transport to deep space, especially to Mars “. Its launch is scheduled for 2027.
As for I-HAB (International – Habitat), it is a pressurized module 7 meters long with a diameter of 4.5 m and adry at launch between 8 and 10 tonnes depending on the selected. It is equipped with “ habitability and life-sustaining capabilities, providing docking capabilities to provide interfaces and resources to passing vehicles “. Building on the legacy ” of pressurized elements of the realized by TAS and on new processes and technologies, I-HAB will represent the evolution of the elements of the ISS towards a new generation of exploration modules in deep space ».
I-HAB will meet evolving requirements and performance for lighter weight structures and optimized systems. protection against micrometeorites, mooring systems andevolved, improved functional and avionics architectures, more efficient thermal control systems with deployable to ensure of fully autonomous and innovative packaging systems “. I-HAB will for the first time experience long exposure to the deep space environment, providing the opportunity to test and demonstrate potential design solutions to provide protection against cosmic radiation.
I-HAB being unmanned most of the time when it will operate in, ” solutions dedicated to operations , both on board and outside the module must be implemented “. One of the key steps in the evolution of its design from ISS modules will be to use the to develop more comfortable living interiors, in particular through modular and reconfigurable solutions to optimize the space and comfort of the crew. The launch of I-HAB is scheduled for 2026.
Futura: What materials will these two modules be made of?
Franco Fenoglio : The list is long, but just to give some interesting points relating to thermo-mechanical parts: thetypical for primary structures is the d’ , which will also be used for secondary structures that can also combine other solutions such as, for example, moulable.
The micrometeorite protection part is designed with aluminum panels, the thermal radiators will be large size panels with mechanisms and fluid tubes. Passive thermal control will generally be carried out with PWMs (multilayer) with use of fabric aluminized. Beta tissue is a type of tissue in fibers of , similar to fiberglass. The windows will be designed with acrylic panels.
Futura: What existing module will I-Hab’s legacy be from?
Franco Fenoglio : The main structure of I-HAB should be derived from the primary structure of Halo (Habitation and Logistics Outpost), the first pressurized module which will form the gateway. In turn, Halo can be seen as an “evolution” and an “improvement” for the lunar orbit of the(Pressurized Cargo Module). But, compared to a module for the ISS, we can say that the I-HAB will implement significant differences, despite the fact that it builds on the legacy and capabilities developed by Thales Alenia Space for ISS modules.
Futura: What should be understood by “solutions dedicated to robotic operations, both on board and outside the I-Hab module will have to be implemented”?
Franco Fenoglio : For outdoors, and to avoid extra-vehicular outings (EVA Extra Vehicular Activity), the modules can be equipped with robotic interfaces as robotic arms or evenmay reach to perform external operations, such as parts replacement, inspections, etc. Likewise, robotic interfaces can be implemented inside the module to allow robots to perform activities, either in a sort of “collaborative” approach with the crew (if applicable), or more autonomously. when the module is unattended; this, both for the , experimental operations, etc …
It should be noted that the robotic scenario is still being defined. So far, the design of the module mainly foresees the implementation of interfaces to enable future robotic operations.
Small parenthesis to underline that, as the Gateway will not be permanently inhabited unlike the ISS, it will therefore have to operate autonomously. We will equip the two I-HAB and Esprit modules with a robotic interface allowing maintenance and remote operations to be carried out.
Futura: Regarding protection against cosmic radiation from I-Hab, what are the solutions and concepts planned?
Franco Fenoglio : The necessary protection against radiation in the ISS is limited because theis still under the protection of the Van Allen belt. As we move away from the LEO orbit, this protection decreases and the modules must be equipped with specific protection against radiation. From now on, the permanence of the crew in the gateway will initially be quite limited (between 30 and 40 days) so, in this case, the protection offered by the structure of the module and its internal parts and equipment could be sufficient; or, at least, one could eventually start to implement only “local” shields, for example in the areas where the crew will rest and spend the most time. Note that an increased thickness of metallic materials (such as the aluminum shell of the module) is not very effective in terms of radiation protection, it is rather necessary to put in place layers of other materials, in particular with a good content of – in this perspective, layers or blankets with water could be implemented as well as an acoustic solution.
Futura: During the first flights of Artemis, complete radiation protection in the Gateway module is probably not necessary?
Franco Fenoglio : For the first mission certainly yes. But if we consider the Gateway as a first opportunity for Europe to experiment with orbits already representative of the “distant” environment, it will certainly be worth using it to test technologies in orbit and design solutions. protection against radiation which will then become “mandatory” for future longer exploration missions, such as a trip to Mars.
Futura: Is the Spirit tunnel the legacy of the Cupola?
Franco Fenoglio : Le WIT (Window Tunnel) will of course be “inspired” by what was done for the ISS Cupola, but with a new design approach on certain aspects, in particular the materials and the compatibility-protection against the environment: theare designed to be designed in acrylic instead of glass, in particular to limit the launch mass, the glass being significantly heavier. The material must also be tested (and approved) against the space environment which is different in lunar orbit compared to low earth orbit. For example, protection against micrometeorites might be a little less demanding than with the ISS due to the absence of space debris in lunar orbit.
Futura: Is this a complex module to do? Hard spots?
Franco Fenoglio : The main structure of WIT by itself is not a major issue as it will be a standard aluminum pressurized module, although it is smaller in diameter than the module designed for ISS, which will require us to adopt new templates and production tools. Anyway, windows always represent singularities in the structure. Therefore, careful design must be carried out to ensure proper mechanical performance.
Typically the most complicated part is assembling the window due to thebut also the to avoid and limit the risk of , the possible surface treatment to ensure the adequate optical properties, the qualification facing a new space environment (lunar) which could be demanding (for example in terms of thermal cycling); possible protection against moon dust (provided by lunar vehicles docked at the gateway when returning from the moon’s surface) could be another requirement to be faced.