According to NASA Spaceflight, “Orion managers are becoming more interested in the idea of the European Space Agency (ESA) taking over a role in NASA’s exploration future.”
Adhering to the international cooperation angle for the Agency’s future, managers have told their teams they are “serious” about ESA building the Service Module (SM) for Orion, via Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) hardware. It’s no secret that NASA and ESA have been talking about a European role with Orion, after Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Bill Gersteinmaier was quoted (by Aviation Week) at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) saying that the ATV could transfer from ISS resupply ops into the Orion role. Such a deal would build on current agreements with ESA, which calls for a number of ATVs to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), as part of their role with the orbital outpost (read the full article on NASA Spaceflight).
The ATV is a resupply vehicle designed by ESA and built by EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space. The ATV is three times the size of a Russian Progress, and has been designed to evolve into a Cargo Ascent and Return Vehicle (CARV), with reentry capability, and even to a human rated vehicle. Possible future applications may also include the use of ATV derivatives as building blocks for orbital laboratories and space stations. So far, two ATVs have successfully visited the ISS, and three more are set to to be launched in the next months. In the video below, ESA officials discuss the ATV-2 mission profile, from lauch to controlled reentry in the South Pacific.