For the last several years, American astronauts have relied on Russian-built launch vehicles to get them to orbit. Today, the Russians – and the French – are helping in a different way to get the U.S. space program off the ground again with an impressive airlift of a spacecraft module set to reach for Mars.
Russian outsize and heavy-lift carrier Volga-Dnepr and France-based Bolloré Logistics teamed up to help NASA transport a 14-ton module and 10 tons of supporting equipment from Bremen, Germany, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on one of Volga-Dnepr’s Antonov 124-100 aircraft. The equipment are essential pieces for NASA’s Orion spacecraft for its upcoming Exploration Mission-1 in 2020.
Volga-Dnepr is a veteran of carrying sensitive high-tech cargo, like satellites, spacecraft parts, rockets and boosters. Konstantin Vekshin, president of cargo charter operations at Volga-Dnepr, cited the An-124-100’s ramp loading capabilities and onboard crane systems as its differentiating features when choosing an aircraft to handle the cargo.
Once installed, the module will provide Orion with propulsion, power, water, thermal control and oxygen supplies for its future missions. Orion’s first unmanned trip, scheduled for June 2020, will test the spacecraft’s ability to operate in deep space conditions, including a human mission to Mars. See the video below for a preview of what’s to come once the shakedown of the spacecraft is completed: