NASA Just Ordered Three More Orion Capsules, for Artemis VI, VII, and VIII

Lockheed Martin announced that NASA has ordered three more Orion spacecraft for future Artemis missions. The new order includes capsules for the Artemis VI, VII and VII missions, which are expected to launch in the late 2020s to early 2030s. The three additional capsules are on order for $1.99 billion.

“Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with NASA to deliver Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis missions. This order includes spacecraft, mission planning and support, and takes us into the 2030s,” said Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for Commercial Civil Space, in a press release. “We’re on the eve of a historic launch kicking off the Artemis era and this contract shows NASA is making long-term plans toward living and working on the Moon, while also having a forward focus on getting humans to Mars.”

NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft for Artemis I on the pad at Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

This forward-looking and optimistic order of additional spacecraft comes before Artemis I has gotten off the ground. The current schedule has the next launch attempt for the uncrewed Artemis I test flight on November 14. Two prior launch attempts were canceled in August, and then a launch attempt scheduled for September 27 had to be waved off when Hurricane Ian’s uncertain path forced NASA to roll the giant Space Launch System Rocket back to safety inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.  

Lockheed Martin was the contractor for the first Orion capsules, having received the original order from NASA in September of 2019.

The Orion spacecraft is an Apollo-like command module equipped with life-support systems that will allow astronauts to travel to deep space and into lunar orbit. One Orion capsule was part of a test flight in 2014. NASA plans to use the Orion capsule to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon.

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) on the left, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (right). Credit: NASA

If all goes well with Artemis I, NASA will announce the crew and schedule for a crewed Artemis II flight around the Moon, likely in 2024 and the crewed Artemis III Moon landing mission would follow, tentatively in 2025.  

The Orion capsules for Artemis missions III through V had a cost of $2.7 billion. Lockheed Martin said the new capsules are able to be built for less.

“We’re achieving substantial cost savings from Artemis III through Artemis VIII by extensive structure and system reuse and incorporating advanced digital design and manufacturing processes,” said Tonya Ladwig, Orion vice president and program manager at Lockheed Martin Space. “The Artemis II vehicle will reuse select avionics from the Artemis I crew module, and that reuse will continue to dramatically increase to where the Artemis III pressure vessel capsule will be entirely refurbished for the Artemis VI mission.”

Additionally, the company said they will “drive out cost from these production vehicles through material and component bulk buys from suppliers and an accelerated mission cadence.”

The Artemis II and III Orion spacecraft undergoing assembly at KSC. Lockheed said work is well under way on the Artemis IV craft including welding the pressure vessel together at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the heat shield at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, and preliminary work has already begun on the Artemis V vehicle.