American aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin has won a contract to build nearly a half-dozen spacecraft for the space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA in a statement said that the Bethesda headquartered corporation will build at least six Orion spacecraft for USD 4.6 billion. The Orion spacecraft is an exploration vehicle that carries a crew of four astronauts to a destination beyond low Earth orbit. Under the Orion program, NASA has planned to send astronauts to the Earth’s Moon. The USD 4.6 billion contract will cover USD 2.7 billion for the first three vehicles. The first spacecraft is likely to be ready by 2024. An additional USD 1.9 billion of the contract will cover the production of another three spacecraft. The work on another set of three spacecraft is likely to begin in 2022 fiscal.
The memorandum signed between Lockheed and NASA said that the Orion program will be managed from the Johnson Space Center near Houston. The corporation will assemble the spaceships at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It added that the spacecraft will be designed specifically for carrying crewed missions to space. The Orion spacecraft will be used to ferry astronauts to a mini-space station in the orbit of Moon. From this station, crews will be transferred to a different spacecraft that will take them to the surface of Moon. Once the mission is over, the same lander will bring them back to the mini-station. Astronauts will then leave for Earth in their Orion spacecraft. The spaceship will splashdown at sea.
The announcement about the contract comes close on the heels of the Artemis lander program. The program was awarded to the Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama. Under this ongoing crewed spacecraft program, NASA has set a goal to land the first woman and the next man at South Pole region on Moon by 2024. Meanwhile, there are reports that NASA may order another six Orion spacecraft for its Artemis moon missions by 2030.