The Europeans are getting on board with NASA’s Orion capsule manned spacecraft. Airbus Group NV (EPA:AIR) (OTCMKTS:EADSY), working with the European Space Agency, will design and build a propulsion service module for the American manned space capsule. This is the first time a European company has provided system-critical parts for a major U.S. space project.

NASA's Orion Capsule

Of note, officials from the European Space Agency and Airbus signed the contract, valued at 390 million euros ($490 million), Tuesday in Berlin. The ceremony was attended by representatives from the German federal government, the German space agency, NASA and other U.S. representatives.

Technology developed with earlier Automated Transfer Vehicle

The propulsion module is based on the design of and the experience gained from the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) developed and constructed by Airbus Defence and Space for ESA to supply the International Space Station.

“This follow-on contract is a mark of confidence in our expertise as well as in our ability to deliver reliable state-of-the-art space systems on time and within budget. Thanks to this programme and the continuous investments we make, we are able to maintain our technological lead,”

commented Francois Auque, Head of Space Systems.

Bart Reijnen, the head of orbital systems and space exploration at Airbus Defence and Space, echoed these sentiments. “Let me be very clear – if Europe had not done ATV, the US would not have invited Europe to do the service module for them.”

More details on NASA’s Orion capsule project

NASA’s new Orion space capsule is designed to send astronauts to an asteroid and then later to Mars.

The first Orion mission (Exploration Mission 1) is planned for 2017/2018. The mission includes an unmanned flight to the Lagrangian points of the moon and a return trip back to Earth. This mission is basically a test flight to verify the spacecraft’s performance capabilities before manned missions, and is also a major test for NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket. In Exploration Mission 2, Orion will host its first astronauts in a mission to space planned for no earlier than 2020.