The Underside of a Spacecraft Is Fascinating

Illustration for article titled The Underside of a Spacecraft Is Fascinating

The European Space Agency (ESA) has just released this unusual shot of a spacecraft’s undercarriage. You can look directly into the thruster nozzles an ESA service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft!


When launched for deep space missions, the European Service Module will to provide electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen, and thermal control to the Orion spacecraft. It will also propel the spacecraft into deep space. The structural test model above is as close to the flight version as possible: the structure and weight are the same, while mass equivalents stand in for electronics boxes not needed for the series of joint ESA–NASA tests ahead:

The model was installed under a test version of the Crew Module Adapter, and sits on the Spacecraft Adapter that will attach Orion to its launch vehicle. This is the first time the European hardware has been physically connected to NASA’s elements. The service module will be shaken at NASA’s Plum Brook station in Sandusky, Ohio, USA, to recreate the vibrations of launch, as well as being subjected to acoustic and shock environments.

In the photo above you can observe the following main parts:

  • The large gray cone in the middle of the photo is the spacecraft’s main engine, the same model that was used on the Space Shuttle for orbital maneuvers.
  • The six smaller red cones are auxiliary thrusters, which will provide almost 30 kN of thrust, only one-tenth that of a Jumbo Jet engine, but enough to maneuver in space.
  • The four large round objects hiding behind the main engine are propellant tanks.

You don’t try to get vantage point once the spacecraft is fired up, so enjoy it while you can.




Underside? There’s a Uranus joke in here somewhere.