NASA has placed an order for a minimum of six, and as many as 12 Orion spacecraft from Lockheed Martin. The Orion is a spacecraft that Lockheed Martin designed and built specifically for the purpose of flying crewed missions to space, and the first Orion recently completed construction ahead of testing and preparation for its first ever lunar trip next year.

This new contract covers the first mission that will carry actual astronauts to the Moon, which NASA is still targeting for 2024, and covers additional missions spanning ordering periods running up to September 30, 2030. The concrete missions that are already planned which will trigger immediate orders are Artemis III through V, and that contract is valued at $2.7 billion. In 2022, NASA then plans to put down orders for Artemis VI through VIII, which accounts for the second batch of Orion capsules and will come in at $1.9 billion. NASA says that it’s purposely batching orders in groups of three to “benefit from efficiencies that become available in the supply chain over time” – efficiencies which presumably account for the $800 million price differential.

NASA also hopes to be cost-efficient through spacecraft reuse: It’s hoping to re-fly the Orion capsules it’s purchasing at least once per spacecraft, beginning with Artemis II, the first crewed mission in the Artemis program, which will aim to do a Moon flyby but not actually touch down on the lunar surface. 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, and stage missions to Mars and beyond.

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