NASA is currently on an incredibly ambitious timetable to send the new crewed missions to the moon by 2024. The Artemis Program will use the agency’s Orion spacecraft, which borrows liberally from the old Apollo-era command module. Now, NASA is formalizing its plans with a long-term contract for Lockheed Martin. The long-time government contractor will supply NASA with as many as 12 Orion spacecraft over the coming decade.
The Orion spacecraft consists of two parts, both using the same basic layout as the Apollo command and service module. The crew module is the cone-shaped section that returns the crew to Earth, and is the only part that is potentially reusable — NASA has not committed to SpaceX-style reusability, though. The service module contains the primary propulsion and power system for Orion, but it’s not part of the new contract. NASA has partnered with the European Space Agency (ESA) to produce service modules for Orion.
The newly signed Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) calls on Lockheed Martin to manufacture at least six and as many as 12 Orion vehicles between now and September 20, 2030. Under the terms of the agreement, NASA is ordering three Orion capsules upfront for Artemis III through Artemis V. Lockheed Martin is already building capsules for Artemis I and Artemis II under a separate manufacturing agreement.
The first set of Orion crew modules under the long-term contract will run NASA $ 2.7 billion. Around 2022, NASA will order three more vehicles for $ 1.9 billion. The lower cost is because Lockheed Martin will be able to re-use some parts of previous vehicles. For example, Artemis V will use computers, control panels, and seats from Artemis II. Then, Artemis VI will use the entire crew module from Artemis III with suitable refurbishments.
NASA hopes that the OPOC will help speed along development of the Lunar Gateway program as well. The production of some components will be shared between Artemis and the Gateway. Therefore, the Gateway Program won’t have to design and test the same components again. Both programs focus on long-term human missions, so there’s bound to be substantial overlap.
NASA currently plans to the uncrewed Artemis I launch in 2020 or 2021. Artemis II will be the first crewed mission when it orbits the moon in 2022 or 2023. The 2024 Artemis III mission will be the first human landing on the moon in decades and will deliver the first woman to the lunar surface. The OPOC demonstrates NASA is moving forward with these plans, but delays are possible — maybe even likely.
Let’s block ads! (Why?)
ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech