NASA to hand over production of Orion to Lockheed Martin until the next decade

NASA will be handing over a long-term contract to Lockheed Martin for the development and construction of the Orion space capsule that’s intended for future Artemis missions, which will last through 2030.

In a release published by NASA, it indicated that the Colorado-based commercial space company will be responsible for Orion’s production line to support as many as 12 Artemis missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024.

The award, called the Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC), though given to Lockheed Martin, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will remain to manage the operation.

According to NASA, OPOC is an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that will include an indefinite number of orders of the Orion space capsule, which will depeng on the space agency’s need. NASA says that it will order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through Sept. 30, 2030, which will coincide between 6 to 12 Artemis missions.

Sof ar, NASA says that it will be ordering three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. The agency plans to order three additional Orion capsules in the fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII, at a total of $1.9 billion. Ordering the spacecraft in groups of three allows NASA to benefit from efficiencies that become available in the supply chain over time – efficiencies that optimize production and lower costs.

“This is a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Center. They are crucial to our national space program, and have an undeniable legacy and record of success in advancing America’s leadership in the human exploration of space,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“I am pleased that Administrator Bridenstine has heeded my calls and is taking significant steps to ensure that Johnson continues to grow with the exciting future of manned exploration that lies ahead. More needs to be done, and I look forward to production ramping up in the weeks and months to come and to more opportunities with NASA,” Cruz added.

Notably, the space agency will remain to focus on reusability and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. One component of which is the Orion, which is NASA’s next-generation space capsule that will be ferrying astronauts to and fro the Moon and Earth, and potentially across deeper into space such as Mars.

Spacecraft reusability – itself a significant cost saver for the agency – will help NASA build the capabilities for sustainable exploration at the Moon and beyond. The long-term plan will be able to help NASA determine the reusability and reliability of the Orion as it faces reuse, at least twice, in the upcoming Artemis missions.

“As the only vehicle capable of deep space exploration, the Orion spacecraft is critical to America’s continued leadership,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas.

“Today’s announcement signals that we are moving closer towards operation and production. While I look forward to learning more of the details, it’s encouraging to see that this program is moving along as it should be. I am proud of the Orion program team and contractor partners at Johnson Space Center as they move towards getting the vehicle ‘flight-ready.’ Without the brilliant minds and extraordinary leadership of the hard-working men and women at Johnson, our country would not be the preeminent spacefaring nation in the world.”

Orion, the Space Launch System rocket and Gateway are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work under this contract will support the production of NASA’s lunar-orbiting space station. Production of certain spacecraft components already designed and qualified for Orion will be provided for Gateway use, eliminating the need for the Gateway Program to develop and qualify similar components.

“No other spacecraft in the world can keep humans alive hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth for weeks at a time with the safety features, crew accommodations, technical innovations, and reliability that Orion provides,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion Program manager at Johnson. “With the design and development phase of Orion largely behind us, this new contract will enable us to increase efficiencies, reuse the spacecraft, and bring down the cost of reliably transporting people between earth and the Gateway.”

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