NASA Commits to Long-term Artemis Missions with Orion Production Contract

"We've designed it to do things no other spacecraft can do, go to places no astronaut has been and take us into a new era of human deep space exploration".

NASA says it's ordering three more Orion spacecraft for missions to the moon, at a cost of $2.7 billion - and plans to order as many as nine more by 2030.

The US space agency feels that ordering the capsules in groups of three will allow it to benefit from efficiencies which become available in the supply chain over the period of time.

NASA completed building and outfitting the Orion crew capsule for the first Artemis lunar mission in June 2019. NASA also notes that work done for this Orion contract will serve its Lunar Gateway project, as well, with re-use of components developed for the spacecraft contributing to its plan to develop a lunar space station to support future Moon missions, as well as stage missions to Mars and beyond.

Up to six additional Orion spacecraft may be ordered under the IDIQ contract through September 30, 2030, leveraging spacecraft production cost data from the previous six missions to enable the lowest possible unit prices. Artemis V, for instance, will use computers, crew seats and switch panels from Artemis II.

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Morrison, visiting NASA headquarters in Washington, said the five-year investment plan would help businesses support US automation systems, build equipment for spacecraft and play a role in mineral exploration.

The first six spacecraft would be acquired on a cost-plus basis, with a firm fixed price to be negotiated for follow-up orders. Lockheed's announcement noted that assembly of the Artemis 2 Orion spacecraft was already "well underway" at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Johnson also manages the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services, the first two deliveries for which are targeted to launch to the Moon in July 2021. Orion, the Space Launch System rocket and Gateway are part of NASA's backbone for deep space exploration. The Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) is part of the space agency's Artemis program that includes sending astronauts to the moon in 2024.

Named after Greek deity Artemis, twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon, NASA's latest effort will help put the first woman and the next man on the moon's south pole by 2024. Artemis 1 would be an uncrewed trip around the moon and back, now set for the 2020-2021 time frame. Orion is a critical part of the agency's Artemis program to build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface and to prepare us to move on to Mars.

The Orion capsule must be able to bring astronauts to the Moon and back, and it must also be capable of traveling to Mars and beyond.

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