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.
"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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