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NASA Orders More Orion Spaceships for the Artemis Moon Missions

The Orion capsule shown here will make NASA's first Artemis mission, an uncrewed test flight to the moon. (Image credit: NASA/Radislav Sinyak)

NASA recently tasked a company to open production on the spacecraft that will bring astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis program.

Lockheed Martin — the builder of the Orion spacecraft for moon missions — received a contract promising at least six spacecraft orders from NASA. The contract could include as many as 12 orders before the contract's expiration date, which is Sept. 30, 2030, according to a NASA statement about the contract.

Orion will be used to bring astronauts into orbit around the moon. The agency plans to build a Gateway space station in lunar orbit in the coming years and to land humans on the surface of the moon in 2024. While astronauts landing on the moon will use a landing craft, the Orion spacecraft will bring them most of the way there — from Earth to the Gateway and back.

Related: 50 Years After Apollo, Can NASA Return to the Moon by 2024?

"This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA's commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in the statement. 

NASA plans to order the spacecraft in groups of three to make the production of Orion spacecraft as efficient as possible, and thus lower costs. 

The agency has ordered three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V, which together costs about $2.7 billion. The next three missions, which NASA plans to order in fiscal year 2022, will cost $1.9 billion, according to the agency.

NASA added it is taking other measures to reduce cost, such as reusing each spacecraft at least once and issuing fixed-price orders for future missions once the production line has matured.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.