On Monday, NASA allocated $2.7 billion in a deal with Lockheed Martin, to build three Orion capsules. The megadeal comes at the heels of NASA's next lunar mission which will take U.S. astronauts back to the Moon by 2024.
The deal locks in the first phase of the project, Artemis missions III to V. Each of the Orion capsules can carry four astronauts at a time.
NASA, Orion, and Lockheed Martin
After the initial project is launched, the plan is for NASA to order three more capsules in 2022, for the following missions VI to VIII, which will cost NASA $1.9 billion.
Following that, another six capsules may be ordered.
NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said: "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."
The plan is for the Orion capsule to bring astronauts to the Moon and back, as well as to Mars or even beyond.
Bridenstine continued: "Orion is a highly capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA's infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system."
Why is NASA ordering the capsules in groups of three?
Ordering three Orion capsules at a time should allow NASA to save money.
The aim is for these capsules to be reusable at least once. Again, saving money and time for the space agency.
The section of the spaceships that keeps astronauts alive — the service module — is to be designed and maintained by the European Space Agency.
If all goes to plan, we will see two astronauts land on the Moon in 2024, including the first woman astronaut.
Currently, the first flight of the uncrewed Artemis mission — meaning no astronauts will be on board — is due for 2022. Following its success, the first crewed mission will be in 2024.