When America rockets a new generation of explorers to the Moon aboard NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle, its service module will be the powerhouse that fuels and propels the spacecraft, and the storehouse for air and water the astronauts use during their space travels.
The service module will be mounted directly below the cone-shaped crew module, covering the entry heat shield during launch and in-space activities. A spacecraft adapter will connect the service module to the Ares I rocket, and provide structural, electrical, and data connections.
The service module will be 5 meters (16.5 feet) in diameter and will have a mass of approximately 3,700 kilograms (8,000 pounds). It will carry about 8,300 kilograms (18,000 pounds) of propellants.
Making its first flights early in the next decade, Orion is part of the Constellation Program to send human explorers back to the Moon and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.
The service module will support the crew module starting before launch until just before the two modules separate for Earth reentry. An umbilical housing will contain the fluid, electrical and data connections between the service module and the crew module. As the spacecraft nears Earth, the umbilical will be disconnected. The service module will be jettisoned just before the crew module reenters Earth’s atmosphere.