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NASA orders up fresh batch of Orion moon mission spacecraft

The space agency plans to drop at least $4.6 billion on six new spaceships.

Lockheed Martin may be making a lot more Orion capsules for NASA.

NASA/Radislav Sinyak

NASA is really serious about this moon thing. The space agency has ambitious plans to send humans back to the moon in 2024. But that's not all. NASA has it eyes set on making the moon a sustainable place to stay. To do that, it will need a lot of spacecraft. 

NASA announced a new Orion spacecraft production contract with Lockheed Martin on Monday. The Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) aims to support as many as 12 Artemis moon missions. The contract "will focus on reusability and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface," NASA said in a release.

The ordering period will run through late 2030 and includes a minimum of six Orion spacecraft, but could include up to 12. NASA has been busy testing the safety systems and engines for Orion, which is designed to safely ferry astronauts all the way to our lunar neighbor and back.

Moon-bound spacecraft don't come cheap. NASA's initial three-Orion order comes with a $2.7 billion price tag. A second order of three Orions for fiscal year 2022 is calculated at $1.9 billion. The agency hopes to reuse each spacecraft at least once.

NASA is ordering three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. The agency plans to order three additional Orion capsules in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII, at a total of $1.9 billion.

"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 Orion program manager Mark Kirasich. Elon Musk's SpaceX might want to chime in about that as it continues the development of its Starship spacecraft.

In the meantime, NASA has to contend with the sort of delays that seem to plague any complex space mission. This contract shows the agency is undaunted and is already thinking well beyond 2024.

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