NASA orders three more Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions
As NASA prepares to launch the uncrewed Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft to the Moon, the agency has ordered three additional spacecraft from Lockheed Martin.
This $2 billion order is for crewed Orion spacecraft for Artemis 6 through Artemis 8. Under the same contract in 2019, NASA ordered Orion spacecraft for Artemis 3 through Artemis 5 for $2.7 billion.
“Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with NASA to deliver Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis missions. This order includes spacecraft, mission planning and support, and takes us into the 2030s,” Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space, said in an Oct. 20, 2022, news release. “We’re on the eve of a historic launch kicking off the Artemis era and this contract shows NASA is making long-term plans toward living and working on the Moon, while also having a forward focus on getting humans to Mars.”
As the prime contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin has completed two vehicles: one for EFT-1, which flew in 2014, and another for Artemis 1, which is scheduled to launch in November — both uncrewed.
Starting with Artemis 2 no earlier than 2024, four astronauts are expected to fly in each capsule atop Space Launch System rockets for missions to the Moon.
The company said it is actively building vehicles for Artemis 2-5. Most recently, the heat shield for Artemis 3 was delivered to Kennedy Space Center. Artemis 3 is expected to send people to the Moon to land on the surface for the first time since 1972 — likely no earlier than 2025 or 2026.
Capsules for Artemis 3-8 are being developed under the Orion Production and Operations Contract, or OPOC, which NASA says is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for up to 12 vehicles — potentially through Artemis 14.
The goal of OPOC is to reduce the cost of Orion by 50% per vehicle on Artemis 3-5, Lockheed Martin said. Moreover, the vehicles for Artemis 6-8 are expected to see an additional 30% cost reduction.
Much of the initial cost savings, Lockheed Martin said, is expected to come from “extensive structure and system reuse,” as well as “incorporating advanced digital design and manufacturing processes.”
Artemis 2, for example, is expected to use avionics from the Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft, while the Artemis 3 Orion pressure vessel is planned to be “entirely refurbished” for the Artemis 6 mission.
Lockheed Martin said additional cost reductions are expected to come through material and component bulk buys from suppliers, as well as an accelerated mission cadence.
Under NASA’s current plan, the agency hopes to perform annual Artemis Moon missions as early as the second half of the 2020s.
First, however, the agency needs to get Artemis 1 off the ground. After two scrubbed attempts, repairs at the launch pad, and a rollback because of a hurricane, NASA is poised to try again as early as 12:07 a.m. EST Nov. 14.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.