NASA ordered three more Orion Spacecraft for its upcoming Artemis I moon mission

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NASA ordered three more Orion Spacecraft for its upcoming Artemis I moon mission
The Orion crew module pressure vessel for the Artemis III mission—the first vehicle under the Lockheed Martin OPOC contract—is undergoing assembly at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: Lockheed Martin Corporation)

NASA has ordered three new spacecraft from Lockheed Martin in order to send astronauts to the Moon as part of the agency’s upcoming and ambitious Artemis plan.

The company has already delivered two Orion spacecraft and is currently constructing three more for Artemis missions 3–5. According to the company, the newly announced batch of Orion spacecraft is planned for Artemis 6 to 8. The next-generation crew module is designed for deep space exploration, sending astronauts to the Moon and, in the future, possibly even further destinations such as Mars.

“This order includes spacecraft, mission planning and support, and takes us into the 2030s,” Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement. “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.”

NASA’s Artemis plan aims to return humans back to the moon’s surface more than 50 years after Apollo. The Artemis 3 mission aims to land astronauts on the Moon by 2025, and more lunar missions will follow to establish a long-term presence on and around Earth’s natural satellite.

NASA signed a contract with Lockheed Martin in 2019 to build up to a dozen vehicles as part of the Orion plan. According to NASA, the contract is an “indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through Sept. 30, 2030,” NASA wrote in a 2019 statement.

The space agency paid $2.7 billion for the Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions 3 through 5, with an additional $1.99 billion added to support Artemis missions 6 through 8.

In 2014, the first Orion spacecraft launched for its first flight test, traveling through the Van Allen belt and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) above Earth.

Lockheed Martin’s second Orion spacecraft is currently awaiting launch for the Artemis 1 mission, which has been pushed back to November after numerous delays. The first mission of the lunar plan is a test of the unmanned spacecraft as it travels to the Moon and back before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Related: Every possible update of Artemis I SLS Moon Rocket Launch

While one spacecraft prepares for launch, the second and third Orion spacecraft for Artemis 2 and 3 are being arranged at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Orion spacecraft will carry a crew for Artemis 2, but it will not land on the Moon. That will be the mission of Artemis 3, in which astronauts will travel aboard Orion and land on the lunar surface.

“Work is well under way on the Artemis 4 craft including welding the pressure vessel together at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the heat shield at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, and work has already begun on the Artemis 5 vehicle,” Lockheed Martin wrote in the statement.